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The Universe Expanding

By piersley All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 1

The night bore down on Billy. It stung like burning tears at his back. He looked into the hole where space existed. Black and blue dirt remained there. Sparks crackled nearby from the fallen light post. The hole was hand-sized. He took it in for a long moment… stared at it. In the distance, the police lights grew brighter. He walked shakily to the burning embers of the forest where the road barrier lay on its side. A drop of blood trickled down his face in the cold night air. “Airy!” He called out. The name was familiar to him but he didn’t know why. He looked back briefly at the hole and could not remember what had occurred.

The most likely scenario was that his father had taken his eyes off the road when the car veered right and flew off into a treacherous ravine, sixteen-feet deep with trees all along the way. It was wedged between four trees. He could see it, red and shiny with his mother and father still in it sitting straight up. He had been in the back seat. He didn’t know why he wasn’t still in the car with his parents. “Airy!” He called out again. Nothing. He saw nothing in his mind. He remembered the face of his mother, pretty and green-eyed turning back to him to say something…. And then the world had gone blank for a moment.

Where were they headed to in such a hurry? He didn’t remember. He felt a sting on his side. The rear door handle of the car was wedged into him like a plastic dagger. It was rigid and deep inside of him. He fell to the floor on seeing it, feeling weak. His heart beat faster. A man with an axe came and picked him up from the road, then proceeded to the bottom of the ravine where the car was. He felt like a hallucination but Billy said it again to him in almost a soft whisper before the man put him in his arms, “Airy,” he said, quietly but the night was dead ominous silence. It almost sounded like a loud voice, a loud lost voice.

The strong smell of plastic syringe entertained his eyes with the idea of opening. They did not, not immediately. Small angels in robes were running around doing “The Lambada” in his dreams and he didn’t want to interrupt for some unknown reality. However, this was cut short as the Latin music suddenly shut itself off. His eyes opened to a large empty room with a nurse on his side checking a machine. Beside the bed was his mother bandaged on one arm with a sling around her shoulder. His father looked beaten and bloody from the eyes but his other limbs had not been hurt. He looked distraught for a minute.

His father was a short man, only one-foot above his four-foot-nine mother. He had a rugged face with lines crossing his cheeks grown from stress and drinking too much afternoon whisky. The old man loved his beard and mustache but for Billy’s recovery he had shaved, which Billy thought was a normal reaction for his father, who often wanted things to be perfect during imperfect times. In his right eye there was a tattoo dash. It had been a foolish decision his father had said. His mom said he’d run from the chair but by then it was too late. The ink was now faded and dark-green. In public, he wore a fancy hat to cover it up. He was in blue jeans and black cowboy boots with the belt and fancy tucked-in gray shirt to match. The buckle bore the symbol of a bull with rubies as eyes. It was to scare off the tall people, or so his father said. A tear escaped his eye when Billy turned to look at him. “You okay, Billy?” His mom asked, as he woke. She put her hand on his cheek and bent to kiss him on the forehead.

Her voice was soft and he could feel the hurt in her words, almost as if she’d been the one who had been stabbed with a doorknob. “I’m fine,” Billy said, softly. He wasn’t fine. His head was spinning and his dreams had been too weird lately. “I dreamt about midget angels in a ball room, is that normal, mom?”

His mother turned to look at his father with a smile. His father just shook his head, frowning at the comment and proceeded to cross his arms. He wiped a tear from his eye. “Told you,” he said to his mother, “You were worried for nothing.” Then, without saying another word, left the room. The encased room’s walls were see-through and he could see his father outside leaning against the frame, crying.

He thought about asking his mother why but he asked her a different question, instead, “Who is Airy?”

“What?” She asked him.

For a moment, Billy lost his train of thought. He looked deeply into his mind but couldn’t remember asking anything.

“Sorry, mom, I—what did I say?”

“Exactly, what did you say?”

“I don’t know…it’s this thing. I, when I saw you guys in the ravine, I thought—but who is Airy?”

The second time, Billy’s mind got a firm grip. He even remembered that he had asked the question before, though it was like a shining light that grew more dim as he tried to remember it.

“Why did—I don’t know, Billy. Who do you think it is?”

“I don’t know but I called out the name after the accident. Maybe, for a moment, I thought Airy was a relative, someone I knew…personally. It was just a thought, just some silly dream. Like I said, I have been having weird ones lately.”

“The doctor said you would grow fat,” His mother said, changing the subject.

At this comment, Billy frowned and turned away from her. “Does that mean I can’t play soccer anymore?”

“Well,” his mother said, “It’s a possibility that it could go away over time but the door handle caused some damage to the place in your body that strengthens metabolism, which is what breaks down food. You are going to stop being skinny.”

His father walked in at that moment. “Well, that’s your mother, with the blunt truth. Stop scaring the boy. Of course, you’ll play soccer. I don’t want you to become some kind of bully after all.”

Billy didn’t even respond to the comment. He concentrated on other things, things which were making his head spin. Had his mother lied about Airy? Would he ever know the truth? Who was Airy? Maybe, it was just a trick of his imagination and the name, like the angels, just didn’t exist.

Two years later….

It felt weird to be accompanying the loud-mouthed Meryl to school. He'd been nearly as unaware of her as she had of him, until a recent group of bullies started hanging out near the corner of the neighborhood, gauging the younger kids, a certain group that Billy knew personally. It was the six-foot freckled-faced Larry, the crusher, and his side kick Likeable Terry, except no one liked Terry because of his lazy eye and the way he pushed people onto fences before speaking to them. The term “bully” had lost some of its glory to Billy, since the neighborhood changed for the worst. The expansion of a sort of person began to take over the school. Little fat-nosed children with oversized T-shirts had begun to sprout in every part of the school yard like well-watered tomatoes. Billy was not even factored in as competition, anymore. This left the suffering population of less-thin kids in a form of “innocent” suspense, as they tried to hide from these new somewhat dominant peoples. Billy was with them when they formed groups to try and evade colliding into other kids, as, when they were in a group, they were easily avoided. It even encouraged other, smaller kids to associate with them because of the interesting way in which the school introduced school functions. The new groups could be thought of as clubs with financial backing from the school (this was ten dollars to be spent on “one” five-dollar pizza on Fridays), encouraging association. Of course, this led to a lengthy debate over the last slice, which eventually led to six broken chairs, one wide table somehow stuck in a broken window sill half-way through and a few chalkboards unbolted from the walls and leaned to one side as though they were standing on crutches. The club, then, disbanded, formed anew as a violent protest against smaller children, and left Billy out of it completely, even if he was one of the bigger bullies and more prone to violence when it came to missing out on free pizza. He saw a smaller kid on the floor of the school and looked away as a former member of his club, one named Scrogan, a red-haired teen like himself, struck the younger’s boy’s backpack with a foot and held him on the ground, his face to the concrete. The black pack in question was then ransacked for a brown lunch bag and the kid was free to run away as Scrogan dug greedily into the bag, taking out one green apple and then nonchalantly throwing it over his shoulder in disgust.

“Wasted food,” Billy growled under his breath. Billy was at that time mid-sized and losing weight according to his mom's puberty rule. He wore a bright red T-shirt and long blue jeans that over-rode his black steel-toe boots with awesome brown shoe laces (now on sale). He was the distinct opposite of Meryl, who simply wore a white dress over a frail and thin body with pink lines and black flat top shoes with small white socks. Her hair was in pigtails and golden and she would sometimes smirk at him in an awful way that was irritating but which made her look pretty. Meryl looked over to him and gave him a frown, almost as if she were disappointed at his comment. Did she like seeing that poor boy suffer?

On the subject of Meryl, his dad had agreed but his mom had tried to argue with Mrs. Kinson that her son had nothing to do with her daughter's safety. Billy didn't care but he didn't see why he should play the role of bodyguard to Meryl. Couldn't he have played that roll for Karyn, the prettier black-haired girl in school? No. She already had an older brother. In the end, the term “good neighbor” got thrown around once or twice and the contract was made. Billy had to escort Meryl, for better or worse. By then, he was counting his steps along the edge of the sidewalk.

The street lines changed from the dull gray of concrete to a bright red. Some idiot neighbor had left their small black thrash can out in the middle of the street and Billy stumbled onto it as he walked the edge of the side walk. It hit him on the knee. He rolled to one side onto a grassy square growing on the sidewalk. A minute later, Billy got up and argued with the garbage can. "Stupid thing, what the heck, didn't you see me coming?" He was being funny for Meryl’s sake but she was ignoring him at a distance. They may have walked together for a brief period of time but they never really talked a lot.

Meryl stopped walking, looking back at him. Her long strides kept her a good distance ahead. She was nearing a two-story green house with an open gate. It had an extended front yard, green grass shining against the glimmer of the sun. The sun was so bright that people did anything to keep to the shade. Rumor had it that the world was coming to some sort of end or, at the least, headed toward some very bad things. The media couldn’t keep track of its own stories, so it just made up a bunch of them because, eventually, one of them would be the truth. The heat before the summer gave Billy a hint of the end, the impending apocalypse. What the media had adopted was a feeling of “whatever, just quit” because so many prophesized the end of the world. Billy didn’t care. He was happy playing video games or going up a tree and sniping innocents with a bag of rubber bands at his sides.

A tall, five-foot jock-type came out of the gate. His name was Cal Richmond. He had the look of a rough tug with his black leather jacket and wavy blonde hair. He was tall for being fifteen. He was regarded sometimes as the school bully and sometimes as the school hunk. Billy did not understand how those two fit. He was probably attractive to the ladies, unlike Billy, whose newfound belly denied him even a look. At least, Meryl looked at him but she had the most awful voice. It had to do with her braces, or so she said. Still, the Cal boy approached her. He was about to shove her with the heel of his black boot.

Then, he saw Billy coming with a thrash can lid in one hand. Billy was already upset, so there was no need to further aggravate him on the matter of Meryl. He came across a problem. Did he care if Meryl got hurt, if she was bullied around by Cal with his blue eyes or not? Maybe, she'd like that sort of thing. Well, she hadn't said anything to him about the thrash can thing and Billy felt that was quite descent of her, almost human.

"Lose something, Cal?" Billy asked him, tentatively.

"You...again. No one was about to boot you in the butt, huh?"

Meryl turned back around in shock. She hadn't even heard Cal approach. She smiled at him for some reason. Idiot.

"The girl has some contract with my parents. If it were up to me, I'd care less what you did to her but my pops denies me allowances."

Cal laughed. "So honest all the time, Billy. Keep your poor-boy stories to yourself!" He shoved Meryl toward him. Billy was forced to catch her in his arms before she fell. He could have let her fall but then that would have resulted in some kind of deduction to his allowance. Not that he was broke. Cal was dead-wrong on that sore debate. It was his father that was stingy or, rather, as he had put it, not prone to having a son spend his days wasting his father's "hard-earned" money. The old man had over two million in the bank. It was just sitting there, too. Billy didn't get more than five dollars a week, if that. The agreement came with clauses, just like every part of Billy's life. If he could eat chocolate cake, then he had to take out the thrash but then if he had to play video games, he couldn't be a bully because that's not what bullies did. Was there a fair in-between that Billy could step on? Strange as it seemed, Meryl smiled up at him too, with her green eyes. Billy held her up and made her stand away from him by stretching out his hand to denote the distance rule, two feet, minimum.

"Follow," he said, "But not too close."

Meryl had a book in her hands. It was the worst thing to have in your hands in that neighborhood, what with all the bullies competing for favor within each other’s groups. This is why there was a neighborhood watch but then, the watch was mostly bullies themselves. Huge, bulky fellows, ex-wrestler-types had taken over the watch just one week back, having won the initial choose-and-pick-out-of-a-hat process by cheating. Billy had not witnessed the event himself. The local people rumored about it and it trickled down to Billy by the school's kids. Billy had bullied some kids before himself but it was for a sandwich or for a piece of candy. Then, he found, it was just less hassle to ask...in a menacing way with a bit of hunger in the eyes. Less teachers sent you to detention for asking.

Cal eyed Billy for a second before closing his gate and walking off. They were descending downhill, so the walk seemed less troublesome. Billy hated any sort of exercise. It was tiring but he had to do something about the weight. People still thought he was too tough. Why put it on him to be a security, when he could just as easily be a nerd? Still, the video games weren't as fun as the rubber bands. And the tree was strong enough to hold him, so why not? He had turned into a rebel since he was thrown out of the soccer team for being too fat. His father had disapproved of the coaches decision and had immediately installed a new set of rules for Billy to follow, including an extensive list of chores and a significant cut in what used to be a good forty-dollar a week allowance. Eventually, it became simpler just to change into a bully, to stop his father from being overly-generous with the “list.” One of the items on the list was run two miles like he used to do when he was in soccer camp but Billy had trouble running one these days and it irked him because it wasn’t his fault.

"You were rude to him," Meryl said, quite amused.

"That sounds about right," Billy said.

"Well," Meryl said, "I can't have you be rude to everyone just because of me. In fact, I would prefer you not walk me home or to school anymore. Your lack of care for everyone and anything around you disgusts me."

Billy was about to say the most irrational thing to her. Damn it all, he just grabbed her book and threw it on the sidewalk. A car swiftly ran over it. Meryl was fast to retrieve it carefully but now there was a brown tire mark running across its very fine white cover. It had the picture of the number three and in the background was a C delicately drawn in white. It was smeared in brown in places. It looked more like a straight line now.

"Well," said Meryl, "I guess this is my proof. And you can bet my mother is going to hear about this."

Billy sighed and continued to walk downhill, ahead of her. He looked back from time to time. For the moment, he had still made a bargain. Even if he had other, better things to do like asking Simon for his peanut butter and jelly sandwich, he had still promised to protect the girl, annoying as she was.

The next day, Billy felt a pang to his empty wallet. Twenty-five cents is what he could bring out of it this week. He had lost four dollars because that's what a new book like the one Meryl had somehow dirtied--as was Billy's excuse--had cost. His father, in the middle of a living room full of luxury which included a large black forty-inch plasma television on the wall and on the ceiling, along with big cases displaying Yankee and Dodger team sets and baseballs on a platform signed by whole teams for five generations, was pacing back and forth angrily. "One job, that's it, you had one job, Billy."

"I did my job," Billy complained.

"I saw the book."

"Keeping her book clean wasn't part of the deal."

At this part, his mom walked in.

"Jane, did you hear what your son did?"

"Oh," Billy's mom said, "What are you blaming him of now, Frank?"

She went to the kitchen which was right next to the living room. The house was so open from the roof to the floor that it stretched at least fifteen feet high. And there were light sockets up there dug into the walls that illuminated the whole room in a blinding fashion. Billy tried not to look up in his own house for fear of burning off his eyes. His mom had to walk around some black crystalline tables she'd bought from an auction last week. Billy didn't get a dime from his dad but he was glad that, at least, his mother wasn't as neglected in that respect.

"Blaming? He's mocking me, Jane. Mocking me. I tell him to protect the girl and he's the one she needs protecting from. This is the third time he's done it. Ha, but that's the last straw. Yes, sir. It is."

His mother sniffed and said, "Again, you blame my son. Not once do you think, oh, what did the little princess next door do to provoke him, huh?"

Billy felt that was an un-fair assumption of his mom and he felt surprised that he thought that. Well, he had been the one to lose his temper. It wasn't Meryl's fault she was a loud-mouth.

"No excuses, Jane. You don't need to protect him. Yes, he's fifteen but he should know better. I knew better at fifteen. At fifteen, I had straight A's in class. What's this another report card full of B's!"

Billy sighed. For some reason, he couldn't get a sense of justice in his house. Grades weren't good enough; his attitude wasn't good enough, his health wasn't good enough, was there anything good enough? His dad always played the grade card. He kept recent copies of his report card in his pocket just to tease him about it. Usually, it was sarcastic and good-natured but when he was mad, he used it as a tool to make him feel bad. The worst part was that loud-mouthed Meryl hadn't said a word to him the whole way back from school. She had reason to be upset with him, at least. It made the long trek uphill from school like crawling up a sweaty tunnel with glass and dirt stopping him from time to time.

"A lady said she saw you arguing with a thrash-can, even! Is that right? No. Don't answer."

His mom had come back to the living room with a purple crystal cup and a bottle of wine. She sat on one of the fine dark-blue all-silk-embroidered couches. Billy wasn't supposed to sit on them, that was the rule, so he sat on an old oak wood chair near the entrance to the house, instead. It was uncomfortable and lumpy at the sides. He had his head down. Billy wished they would beat him. It would be easier to deal with than the yelling and especially the robbing of his allowance thereof.

So he found himself walking to school alone. In the left corner, across the street from the school was an ice-scream store. He would sometimes go there to feel the cold icy pleasure of a pistachio-flavored scoop of deliciousness. Now, he was sad to see that his wallet wouldn't approve of the action. All because of that stupid Meryl. Damn. He was going to school too early. Simon was coming up the street at a run.

"Hey," he said to Billy.

"Simon," Billy said, "How is your lunch?"

"Don't worry, Billy. I got you."

"You got me, ey?" Billy asked. This wasn't the way it was supposed to go but Simon seemed to be a good person, never mind that Billy bullied the poor kid for his lunch every day. What was his ploy? Did Simon want something from him?

"What is it you want?" Billy was often curious about the needs of the weak. Unlike others in school, Simon was a nerd. He wore glasses and a yellow sweater. Ugly wasn't the correct word for it; more like, unnecessarily almost white, as if bleach had gotten in a fight with yellow and lost. He wore the most tacky green pants one could think of, bright eye-draining green. And his shoes had been fashioned from metal. They were obviously shiny-gray and meant to blind bullies as he ran away from them. This was an actually smart move and probably the only part of the suit that made sense.

"You play Space Dreg," Simon said.

"I do not," Billy lied but he was no good at it. His eyes kept darting from right to left as if the lie police were going to get him.

Simon actually laughed. Didn't he know that Billy would pound him? Well, no, Billy wouldn't pound him. He couldn't afford it, literally. He put the quarter back in his pocket. Maybe, if he ever got another one to accompany it, it would come in handy. Billy looked at his watch. He was still too early for school. He wasn't, after all, a geek. The difference between geek and nerd, to Billy was simple. One did way too much homework; the other played too many video games. Usually, people expected a combination of the two but this was not true of Eric Dimpson. He was addicted to a video game, an online multiplayer thingy. He got bad grades but was good at games. In nerd town, perfectly reasonable. In the geek world, an abomination. Such was the way of peers and groups. Billy had to choose one, it seemed. And it was startling to find that he was intent on joining Simon's, despite his distaste for both nerds and geeks. It was partially because Space Dreg was a descent game. It was a place where you fought for justice in an unjust planet. It was similar to real life.

"I won't tell anyone," said Simon, coming up to his side, "You going to Joe's like always?"

"Not today," Billy said, "I'm a quarter short of a scoop."

"Oh? Well, I just happen to have a favor. He owes me."

"You'd do that for me? Even though I steal your lunch every day?" Billy just couldn't figure the kid out.

Billy had most his books in a locker where he used to stuff the new students but then that proved costly, so he was like a tame lion now. Still, he felt he had to keep some kind of distance from the geeks, didn't he? Imagine if people knew that he got all B's in class or that he played Space Dreg? No, he had to keep a close eye on this one. Now, Simon here was a short one. He was at least one foot shorter than Billy, although Billy's height wasn't so imposing as his weight was. Simon wore glasses and had a small nose, so they kept falling a little short. They were glasses he would eventually grow into apparently. He had blonde hair and a missing tooth. Simon didn’t need a distinguishing feature such as that, though, since it was his unfaltering smile that made him noticeable. In a school practically run by bullies, it was odd to see a short middle-school kid smiling so much.

"I want to play with you, actually."

They started to walk down hill toward the ice-cream shop.

"Space Dreg?"

"Yes," said Simon, "Because the Shimitar is on a rampage again. I die consistently to a flying dagger or a space-clone trap. How does she even do that? It takes three million Space coins to purchase a clone. True, one could get that from the Everlast, pill of the dead, but then you'd have to survive the escape of planet Erk."

"I did that once," Billy said, "But I did not purchase a space-clone. So. You require my assistance with Shimi, good friend of mine by the way. I'll tell her to leave you be."

"You know Shimitar!"

"Yea, I'm Droolmonger, what did you think? I play to win."

"You're the legendary player versus player champ who retired on the west side of Planet Q to fight in respect of justice as a judge for the battles of clong?"

"Yes," Billy said, annoyed. He felt weird being excited by the game. But it was interesting to see how other people reacted. It was like having a conversation about something no one else would understand. In a sense, geek-talk but since it was video game related, was it really just nerd talk? Billy couldn't decide what to do. He had been snared into talking about the game. "You see," Billy said, "While there might not be justice in the real world, one could have hope for justice in the game. Whenever anyone came to me in the council of Clong, I gave them the right to state their case and judged them fairly. Now, the game developers sent me a message saying they wanted to dissolve my character if I kept playing fairly. It was a game; it was supposed to be unfair."

"That's why I haven't seen you on."

"The real world interrupted the game world," Billy said with a sigh, "So until I fix it out here, I can't help you in there. I know Shimi's game-mail, so all I can do is send her a message."

"You'd do that for me? Even if you think you're stealing my lunch?"

"Think? You always give it to me when I ask."

"But you ask."

"Saves me the effort of pounding you."

"But when you ask," said Simon, smiling, "I am seen with you and, people think we're friends, so the other bullies leave me alone. I just tell them I know you."

Ha, so the truth came out. Simon was just using him like his father had, like Meryl had, although he tried to help her.

"Well, I guess that's fair," said Billy, who really didn't want to get into it. He much preferred just to get his ice-cream and continue to ignore Simon. He walked past Cal's house with a frown but continued down the street, not wanting to stir up another reason to lose his allowance. Simon still followed him.

"I want to be your friend, for real," Simon said.

No. Billy hadn't got to the point. "Let me weigh the options, as you buy me ice-cream," Billy said.

They were in front of Joe's ice-cream parlor. He was surprised that time had gone by so fast.

They sat in the back, away from windows. It was so early that people weren't there. Joe himself served them. When they came in, Joe smiled at Simon and said, "Little Man, you going to let go of my strings today?"

Here was a tall black man in a white apron and white hat with the word scream written across the top in multi-colored sprinkles and he was afraid of the tiny Simon.

"Yea, yea," said Simon, "Give my friend here a free-bee."

"Well," Joe said and paused looking at Billy up and down, "Okay but it's just a shame what you're doing to the poor fellow."

That was probably a shot at Billy's weight but Billy ignored it. Free ice-cream was free ice-cream. After getting their ice-cream, Joe saluted them and they sat in the back.

"Here's the thing," Billy said, "I have a problem meter. Not a reputation, not like you would think. I don't try to hold up to any thing but this: justice. Maybe, sometimes I can be unfair to the weak but then I find that I've been helping you. Hence, what kind of justice is that?"

"A pretty fair one, if you ask me. I like not getting my head pounded on as much as the next guy."

"Justice for me, I mean. At least, in that respect, I get your lunch. Or, how are you working out the lunch bits? You don't seem pale or un-healthy."

"My dad's a cook," Simon said, "And he works at a meat and bakery store. It's the reason why Joe owed me a favor. He borrowed a set amount of ice from my dad's shop one day and I had to overlook it."

"So," Billy said, quite impressed, "Others steal from you as well."

"And I get free ice-scream, so who is stealing from whom?" Simon said, with a smile on his face. There were the remnants of a chocolate chip cookie on his lip. He continued to spoon ice-scream with multiple toppings on it into his face, while Billy slowly enjoyed his Pistachio ice scream, one spoon full at a time. Billy didn't put any toppings on his. What a waste of ice scream that, to spoil it with additional bits and such. It only made a mess of things.

"I like that you always get back at the thieves, including me. I may be the worst one of all."

"Not really," Simon said, "Most of the lunches I give you are old sandwiches from three days back, which we usually throw away at the end of the fourth day. What you're getting is our thrash, so again, who is stealing from whom?"

"I stole a lasagna from you once," Billy said, remembering a distinct taste of cherries in the thing. It was so good. It was his most successful lunch stolen so far.

"Mom's cherry surprise," Simon said, cheerfully. How could the kid be so happy? "Yea, I got over that. Mom made too much again, so I had a couple more stored in my locker. Ate them both by the way, before you could steal it again the next day. I got you a rotten sandwich that next time."

"Hmm, well that's just wrong, isn't it?"

"Fair is fair," Simon said with a distinct and commanding tone, although it was hard to see him as commanding with a flake of peanut attached to his lip and his glasses almost falling off his nose.

"So it is," Billy said.

As he was saying it, almost like it was destiny, in came Cal with a new leather jacket. It was brown and shiny and it complimented his brand new brown shoes, too. Here, Billy saw an opportunity.

"Simon," Billy said, "I will accept your friendship under a few set terms. We don't betray each other, one."

"I agree."

"Two, none of this talk of Space Dreg until I can come back into the game and fight for justice."

Sadly, he said, "Whatever, it's fine."

"And three, should any of these fellows you call bully come to you again, you do not need to pronounce that I am your friend. If they do harm you in some way, then all you need to do is name them to me once. They will not get in your way further, I can assure you of that."

"Good," said Simon, "I was thinking that saying you are my friend was going to be a lame excuse eventually."

"Not really," Billy said, "Unless your lunches had continued to be bad. Oh, and there's a fourth."

"You said and," Simon said, interrupting, "It's not fair to add after an and."

"Wait," Billy said, thinking, "I didn't say finally. From now on finally is the end of a pact between us, as friends, I mean. Finally is where it ends, I should say.

"Good, okay, well you better say finally then because school is about to start and I do like to get good grades."

"Okay, okay," Billy said, looking at his watch. They were still way early but geeks thought differently about time and school. Billy knew that. He was close to being one but he just couldn't cross that threshold into A, although he did try. He wasn't stupid enough to try and lose his allowance by getting C's. He couldn't be that normal in his house because C's said that he just wasn't trying. In order to get B's, Billy had to get to school early and employ the services of the student tutors who were all too wary of his reputation as the bully that asks. Still, they taught him math and science, his two worst subjects. "Finally," Billy said, "We have to agree to help each other, no matter the cause."

"Oh," Simon said, "That part. I figured that was just part of being friends. There's no need to be a pact for that."

"I see," Billy said, thinking that would be the thing that kept Simon away and he would both lose a good lunch and a potentially valuable ally in the battle versus his parents and other bullies. His battle with love, well, that was yet to be fought. He had yet to step into a field that required his services in that respect.

Again, something slammed against the door. Keya had run. On the other side of the door were men, angry men who had gone too far. Keya was on the Face of the Earth. It was called Ilecaradetier, an Indian outpost in the middle of the Mahami desert. It was true that arranged marriages were fake and stupid stereotypes made up by American novelists and television shows but it was also true, that rarely, when the mother and father of a princess were killed, in order to take the throne, men, in their lust for power, would try and kidnap her. Keya wasn't kidnapped. Instead, her aunt, Cecilla had tried to sell her off to a rich noble family but they weren't a rich noble family just a bunch of traders from the south, white men seeking gold, who wanted her for whatever reason. She was fifteen and three-quarters, what could she give them? The thought caused her to run away from the temple.

She remembered her heavenly home fondly. She remembered it now, when she was cold, hungry and scared. She remembered the large stone walkways and the myriad of purple blossoms and red chrysanthemums and blue lilies on the temples gardens. A gold-embroidered drape with the picture of a Tiger hung before the entrance. Two guard men were in white uniforms were always at the gate and they smiled at her when she went in. The gates were white and twelve-feet tall and she could hear them open smoothly as she walked on toward the garden. On her right were stone pillars on top of which lay the foundation of her castle-like fortress. On her left was nothing but large pines and a road between them that led to a sort-of hidden garden that everyone knew about. She could play in the garden forever, without the thought of a husband or a man in her life. Especially if that man was going to be arranged like she was a piece of cake to be sold to the highest bidder.

The door began to crack as a soldier from the Common army kicked at it. Its wooden frame splintered inward, shedding light into the room of the shack. She had gotten inside through the roof but they hadn’t noticed how. Well, she was small and agile, that was how. How else would she have escaped? She had slipped her hands through the handcuffs when they’d been busy talking about the princess and her royal estates and how well-to-do Steven, her would-be husband, would be once he got her back to his estates in England. Now, this Steven person had that look of a handsome man, with golden hair and gray eyes but there was something not quite right about him. He had a disconcerting smile and wore gray trousers and army boots with a rifle of some sort slung across his back. He also didn’t wear a shirt for the occasion, probably to show off. What was there to show to Keya, she was fifteen?

Finally, the hinges were torn off the door.

Men came in but only two. The rigid odor of their sweat trailed after them. These men wore all-green Army uniforms and caps with insignias on them. They yelled after one another, searching her out.

She saw them pulling back drapes and dumping aside barrels of whatever was in the shack. One of the barrels had spilled out a gray and gold powder that spread all across the room evenly. It touched her feet, just as she was wishing to be anywhere but there.

As the men approached, they saw her shoes beside a barrel and knew she was ducking behind it and they ran at her. One of them slipped on the powder and broke his neck. The other wasn’t so stupid. He pushed his comrade aside, coldly kicking the other barrel aside. He walked up to her, attempting to grab her hand but then Keya was gone. The soldier stumbled back, stunned. That was the last she ever saw of Ilecaradetier.

“Are you sure you want me to do this?”

“Yes,” Billy said, with a sigh, “Justice must be had.”

“But you’re going to get in trouble for this, Billy.”

“Don’t worry, Simon,” Billy said, from the booth in the ice-cream shop. They walked past the glass casings where kids watched an arrangement of ice-cream flavors in display in buckets with metal plates on the sides describing their flavors. These were pointless to Billy, since he liked pistachio and since it was so rare that he got ice-cream that it didn’t matter that he remember names. If he had, he would probably have an even bigger weight problem and Billy just couldn’t afford another problem. But, maybe, he could afford this one.

Simon stopped walking in front of Cal, who was still in line.

Cal had noticed them in the back and just pointed and laughed with his two buddies that were also in line. Lackeys. Billy just regarded them as standbys. The real problem was Cal. Well, Cal needed a lesson in something but Billy didn’t know if it was the right thing to do. Suddenly, Simon got up. It was a good attraction to Cal because he liked to chase after geeks who panicked. Simon telling Cal that he knew Billy wouldn’t work. There was already a dire animosity between them. Billy was a step or two away from Simon, and as Cal broke the line to chase after him, Billy pulled a chair from an empty table up in front of him, and Cal stumbled forward and hit the door with his elbow. He probably broke it from the way he screamed.

“I’m so sorry,” Billy said, “I was just...I mean I meant to move the chair out of my way and my clumsy hands.”

“You did this to me!” Cal screamed but there were enough witnesses that saw Billy moving the chair out of his way almost nonchalantly enough for his story to be true. Cal lay on the floor holding his elbow. At least, one bully was out for the count.

As Billy left the shop, he marveled at his victory. Yesterday he’d been giving an unfair task and an unfair punishment, yet today he had one good friend to count on, who gave him lunch every day and his most hated enemy was on the floor, seeking vengeance. It had been a good day.

The good days continued. With Simon’s help, Billy managed to get a grade above a B in a subject. His problem had been those fractions and their evil ways of tricking the mind into thinking they could be added like other numbers. Billy couldn’t help thinking of fractions as an enemy and him their favorite victim. Simon explained about multiplying on both sides top and bottom. He, then, explained something simpler with a dollar bill. He said that if two quarters were half a dollar in real life, then it had to be true in fractions. So 1/2 literally meant fifty cents or simply .50 as a decimal. There were many simple explanations like these that Simon gave him which helped greatly on exams like 7/10 being like seven dimes because a dime was ten. So in a sense it was the same as seventy cents or .70. This new insight into the corridors of the evil fractions gave him a very interesting edge. He still wasn’t good enough for A plus but he thought he might get there with enough practice. An A meant a dollar more on the allowance meter, which meant, possibly two trips to Joe’s, which, also meant, more talking about nothing with Simon. Despite it being in the clause he kept bringing up Space Dreg. Billy just ignored him and answered yes or no on what he could. He really didn’t want to break the truce.

Throughout this time, he would see Cal come into Joe’s in a cast.

“Ah, poor guy,” Simon said, “Messing with the fated one like that.”

“What are you talking about? No more Space Dreg talk.”

“No, I mean it. You’re like destined to be someone great. Look at all you do.”

“All I do, ey?”

“You stopped me getting messed with by bullies before the real trouble started. I know kids who are way worse. So many bullies around. It’s like we’re bully central over here. Ken Strangert got his shorts stolen in Gym, had to stay in class all day in just a gym shirt. He’s already skinny. He looked like a girl trying to hide inside a skirt.”

“That’s a good story,” Billy said, smiling.

“But I mean, you stop bad things from happening to others, Billy. That’s a good thing. Makes you the fated one.”

“Fated? I don’t think so.”

“Have you spoken to Meryl lately?”

“I rather not. I suppose I could apologize for dirtying the book.”

“Well, I personally never believed you did that but now that I know you did do it, you owe me an ice-cream.”

“Aw, come on man, you know how my dad is about my allowance.”

“Whatever, fair is fair,” Simon said, sternly.

Billy found Simon to be a bit odd. At any point in their relationship, he’d be smiling and telling him all about how he’d conquered certain realms because Shini had left him alone but if he found something that Billy had done wrong and something would happen to Billy because of it, like when Billy dumped a plant into the garbage because he failed in growing it and got sent to detention because of it, Simon had said that fair was fair. Simon had his own sense of justice and he believed that Billy had to cope with that.

“I don’t like that,” Billy said, frowning, “I mean I could be unfair if I like. I am a bully, myself.”

“But not like them,” Simon said, motioning at the table where Cal sat with his spoon. They were on a booth in the back, where they’d first agreed on their friendship. Now Simon sat looking to the outside while Billy sat with his back to everybody. Billy preferred it that way. Simon’s glasses were the only danger of reflecting evil people to him. “Billy, what you need is something to keep you busy. Now that you’ve bitten the bug of math, you need to relax. I have Space Dreg; you don’t.”

“You think so?” Billy asked. Simon might be right but he didn’t know what he could do. Could he work at his dad’s office in the afternoons? What did a man with two million in the bank do? He probably spent his days buying things and who, besides some stumbling Hollywood princess, would find any pleasure in that? “I don’t know, Simon. Unless they need me to crush cans with my brute force, I don’t think I’m apt for anything.”

“My aunt is a librarian and she needs help.”

“What?”

“Twenty dollars a week, Billy.”

Billy almost spit out his ice-cream. Simon mocked him by laughing. Billy smiled but said, “You punk. I’ve known you what, two weeks, and you bring this up to me now? That kind of money, wow, I could buy my own lunch.”

“Oh, nah-uh. I’m already sad enough for throwing away food and I won’t have you--?”

Billy shook his head at him seriously. “Fair is fair,” he said.

Simon sunk into his seat with a frown, feeling ashamed.

Keya broke a chain. Again, she was caught. This time by a group of women who called themselves witches. Keya tried to translate that to her own dialect. It wasn’t really working. They looked nothing like witches to her. They had on Hollywood-style clothes, short-sleeve, belly-cut blue shirts and tiny blue shorts with light blue shoes and socks. One was named Teresa and she kept eyeing Keya from the other end of the cage. As soon as she’d appeared on what looked like a flying ship, they’d locked her in a box. Keya hadn’t moved nor had she been moved by people or hands. She had been in one place one time and in another the next. Her white and blue dress, which extended down to above her ankle and complimented her flowered sandals was now dirty and ripped at one sleeve from when the chains had been put on her. Keya now realized she hadn’t broken the chain. They had released her.

“Who are you?” Teresa asked, releasing her from her chains and from the box. She led her by the hand, gently it seemed onto a stool, where she sat. The wind blew harder now. Was the ship going faster?

“My name is Keya, I used to be princess of the land of Chalibia, but I disappeared from the face of the earth.”

“Yet you’re here,” Teresa said, crossing her hands.

“I mean, that is the name of the nearby town of Chalibia, Face of the Earth, in a strange language. A French and Mexican couple had named it Ilecaradetier. My father and mother were killed by assassins. Then, I escaped my aunt, who tried to marry me off to a stranger named Steven.”

“Wait, wait, stop,” One of the other witches said. Teresa was blonde-haired but the other two with their black hair didn’t seem to have distinguishing features. They looked like twins to Keya, which was remarkable. She’d never seen such a thing in India. They were a distinct color of brown, not like Keya's deep brown skin but a lighter shade of it, almost like cinnamon. “She’s giving you her sob story.”

“But Lisa,” Teresa said, “The girl is almost in tears and there’s a sincerity in her eyes.”

“She looks like she’s starving,” the other witch said.

The one named Teresa made a large bread appear in her hands. It was a wheat bread loaf the size of her hand. She cut it in half and made the other half vanish with what had to be a form of magic. The women didn’t even seem to be concentrating on using any magic. They no more looked at the bread than they did at the other prisoners in cages all across the corner of one end of the flying ship. Keya marveled at how big it was. It had a sail with rings as drawings, big gold rings that shone against the sun. Was it summer here? It had been near winter in Chalibia. Teresa handed her the bread.

Slowly, Keya took it. It was much too soft in her hands. Or was it just the absence of food for the past day and a half? It was hard to hide from soldiers. She remembered a basement, where her guardian Leo had stashed her. After she’d escaped the handcuffs, she’d run to Leo’s house. Unfortunately, her aunt had suspected the man as soon as she’d escaped. It had taken three soldiers to restrain Leo, the big bulky man. He died that day. Keya didn’t see it, thankfully. They gave her that much. India wasn’t home to cruel men or women, just cruel traditions, sometimes. If it weren’t for her personal crisis, she’d believe the rumors of arranged marriages to be completely false, an insult to her people. He had been taken to another room. There was a loud bang and a thump. A tear escaped her eye, as she bit into the bread. It surprised her. The whole thing tasted like spaghetti. Before she could eat most of it, Lisa yelled.

“Well, take her back!”

“What?” Keya asked, dropping her bread. “No,” she pleaded, “Please, leave me here or keep me captive but don’t take me back to that! I’m an orphan!”

Keya’s pleas went unheard to the one called Lisa.

“Jane, you do it,” Lisa said, referring to the other witch.

“Lisa, it’s not right. She’s just a girl and Mark said we didn’t have to send them all back.”

“You want to mess with the destruction of the universe, are you like Mark?”

Jane put her head down and shook her head no. It wasn’t looking so good for Keya.

Teresa sighed, her arms crossed still. She’d been staring at Keya the whole time with a frown on her face. Suddenly, she grabbed the girl’s hand. “Don’t worry,” she whispered at her, “I will send you somewhere...different.”

“Teresa no!”

“Maybe, she’s fated for something good back where she’s from but for now, we’ll save her from this torment.”

“But the curses, Teresa!”

“Don’t be a fool!” Lisa yelled at her.

“It doesn’t matter, we’re done with this one,” Teresa said, and Keya vanished....again. The last thing she saw was the glimmer of sympathetic green eyes.

The library was a place that was so very quiet. It was a local place, about six blocks downhill from Billy’s house, everything was downhill from Billy’s house. He was living on a slope, where the neighborhood seemed to be always up on the hill so that in both directions people would walk downhill from where his house stood. The library was the opposite way from the school yet he didn’t have to walk further up hill, thank God. It was a smooth walk downhill and he had to be there at six, which was perfect, since that gave him two hours to answer his mails about Space Dreg. The censors had already sent him another message saying not to intervene further in the gaming process of certain individuals or his character would be erased. Apparently, they knew about Simon and his recent successes. It didn’t matter because Simon was his friend. He didn’t need to mail him to tell him the secrets of Space Dreg. Their friendship clause now excluded Space Dreg as a banned conversation. It was just much too familiar with them and Billy felt a little like he was playing the game through Simon, even if Simon was now just a minor lord. He’d risen to minor lord, now that Shimi had gave him free reign.

Recently, Billy was bothered by Cal’s presence. He was in class yesterday, listening to Mrs. Kromel explain the phases of photosynthesis, when he saw Cal up front with a disconcerting smile on his face. It was like watching a small gremlin. He was up to something, that much Billy knew. In any case, Billy finally reached the library, after a long walk. It probably wasn’t that much of a walk to Simon, who had decided not to come along. Billy had dressed up for his would-be job in brown slack pants and a long-sleeve button shirt, green for this occasion. He didn’t have dress shoes, so he ended up in a pair of old work boots, he had gotten as a gift from his mother, during the procession known as his birthday. He remembered blowing out a candle and then being told by his father not to feel like he was special and that he was in fact to go directly to his room after the ice-cream. It was chocolate, not pistachio like he’d asked but that didn’t seem to matter to him at that moment. The ice-cream seemed like a consolation prize for his father’s affection.

The place was square with a slanted roof. It wasn’t a roof, more like one long wooden beam smashed askew on top of a square dome. At least, the doors were properly shaded, tinted like a fancy car. He opened the door and went inside to find himself smelling book. From left to right the place was adorned with books. There were books on shelves, books on counters, books on the floor and various books were set atop a barrel in one corner, spilled to the sides. Billy found a disheartening quiet inside the place. There were maybe two people there but he still couldn’t find them. He saw an old woman with glasses at a counter. The counter could only be seen after avoiding a few stacks of books laid on the floor, almost as if purposely to obstruct his view. “Come in, come in,” the lady said. More books were poured on her counter, all in a mess, piled up to the tipping point. When he’d walked in, a couple of piles had fallen to the side and spilled all over the floor from his right but that didn’t seem to matter. They made a noise like “taratatat” when they fell. Billy had smiled at it, preferring to think of it as a joke. Here was a bully walking into a library.

Billy felt inclined to ask, “Is this library new?”

“No,” the lady said, “One of the few still standing in the world after fifty years, what with the internet and all.”

“Why are all the books in a mess?” Billy asked, remembering a book store from his past. He’d visited one with his mom once. She’d told him that it was nice to be in a bookstore because things seemed so organized. Books had been neatly placed in various wooden baskets, aligned alphabetically. Billy wondered if that was a sign of how disorganized everything else was. This library certainly was. He looked up at the roof which if he’d been five feet taller he could almost touch. It was like a hovel inside, much too small for a person to fit. As he walked toward the books in the shelves, he noticed the room got bigger, as though it were in the shape of a triangle. In fact, way in the back, the room was so big that most of the book shelves there looked like grandiose wooden statues, rather than shelves. A ladder was on its side to reach the top-most shelves. Billy looked back at the lady, who was staring at him.

“Are you here for something?” She asked him, eyeing him warily now.

“I know Simon,” said Billy.

“So do I, what of it? The intellect of that Simon fellow is intriguing."

"Fellow? He's fourteen."

"Interesting. You seem to be stuck on age. Yet, still, I wonder what it is you're doing here."

"Oh, that. Simon said..." Billy paused, thinking this might not be what he wanted and that he probably just ruined his chances at getting twenty dollars a week and going back to the daily routine of nearly-rotten sandwiches, "Job."

"A job?" The lady asked, "Curious thing, that. Are you sure Simon sent you? He seems like a better judge of character to me."

"Simon sent me, that's for sure," Billy said, now looking sheepish. He really didn't want to be a part of the clean-up crew that this library needed.

"Come on, then. Your lack of manners will have to do."

The lady led him behind the counter to a room in the back. It was smaller than the rest, since it was so close to where the roof ended. The lady was un-strapping a set of keys from her waist. They were backed into a corner because there was a shelf of books blocking their path. It was just a straight path to the room's door on the right. They could barely fit the two of them side by side. Billy had to walk in back of her of course. She opened the door which opened toward the inside, thankfully. If it had opened the other way, she would have had to go in first, for him to go in after her and he would have felt a little trapped, not that he felt comfortable following this strange lady into a room in the back of a library crowded with books. Billy saw strange things inside the room. It was small for one, so that the lady was ducking to fit inside. Like five feet of height there was in the room, so that Billy seemed to fit but his hair scraped the edges of the ceiling. Billy felt a pang, then. He would be doing way more work than twenty dollars was worth, if it meant he had to organize anything in this library. In this sixteen by sixteen square inch room, there was a neat pile of books stationed and ordered in one corner, existing, it seemed like a formal protest to the rest of the library’s mess. It was the only orderly thing in the library. A three-foot stack of blue books just sat on the floor placed in a square shape like four by four feet. “What am I going to do here?” Billy asked.

“You’ll see,” the lady said, with a sigh. “It won’t take long now.”

The books began to float off the ground. Billy stepped back, almost running out of the room but its height stopped him. “What is this? Are you doing that?”

“Not me,” the lady said, “Unfortunately. Oh, there it goes.”

The blue books vanished after floating to the ceiling. In their place was a swirling abyss of black and purple that the lady was very cautious about. “Don’t step near it,” she warned, putting a hand to Billy’s chest.

“Okay,” the lady said, “Let me explain.”

“I’m not here to organize books, am I?”

“Organize books? Dear boy where would we organize them in? Haven’t you noticed? We got more books than we know what to do with. Never could give away books, not in the heart, see, so I just kept them. Then, this blasted thing came, oh, watch your head.”

A book, blue and with golden pages, spat out of the void. It landed sprawled behind Billy, who had ducked. It barely missed him.

“What the heck!”

“Yea, it’s amazing isn’t it? Well, I tried to throw them back, it just spat back two more, all different titles. Quite the most intriguing thing I’ve ever seen.”

“And you trusted me to know about it?”

“You’re fifteen, who’s going to believe you?” Suddenly, Billy felt a pang. He was being used again, without his notice. Well, she would pay him twenty dollars, that was the deal, fair was fair.

Another book flew out of the void and it hit the roof with such force that one of the pages ripped but didn’t completely get shredded.

“Burning sun! Again. Well, at least it wasn’t torn off the page. Stay here. I’ll be back. Try to catch one boy, where are your reflexes!”

She picked up the books carefully and left the room. Billy waited for a few minutes during which time two more books were spat into the room from the void. One hit him on the shoulder and he thought he felt the pain that Cal had when he’d hit his elbow on the door but, no, this was less; Cal had broken a bone or something.

“Your job,” she said, coming back with what looked like a catcher’s uniform, a leather vest and a catcher’s mitt, “Is to catch my books. See that one over there, all the pages torn, stupid thing spits them out. Just catch my books, that’s all I need you to do.”

“For how long?” Billy asked, realizing that this might be a fruitless job if he spent all night catching books. During her talk, he put on the catcher’s mitt and almost caught one of the books but it flew right over his shoulder. “Sorry,” Billy said.

“Don’t panic. Some books land perfectly fine, just get the ones you can. You’ll be saving me a lot of money on tape and a lot of time searching for the correct pages to attach. Some of them aren’t even in English, can you believe that?”

“You care about the books?” Billy asked, not really concerned with books himself. They were good for getting the grades he needed to up his allowance (now at a glorious six dollars, thanks to Simon). Otherwise, they were objects to be tossed at unsuspecting nerds and geeks like Simon, who weren’t really Simon.

“Yes. Of course. That is what I do, Mr. I like books. And mind you take care in here. If you get hungry, I’ll get you something but it’ll be off your pay.”

“I won’t get hungry,” Billy said quickly.

“Ah, right. Really? Well, if you want a snack, the machine just needs a little push but mind that you don’t take more than one chocolate out of it; it tends to be a little iffy.”

“Your snack machine is alive?”

“Not, well, you’ll see. It is a very interesting machine. Oh, watch yourself.”

He caught the book with his chest, now that he was wearing her protective gear. The cover survived the impact. The book was okay but Billy felt a little winded. He fell to one knee. “Good job! Oh, look one intact, out of the whole bunch. What a wonder. Oh, yes, you’re going to save me lots of tape!”
Was this lady crazy? “Isn’t it a bigger concern that there’s a void there?”

“No. I don’t much care for it. The books, however, wow, they’re treasures of the mind. So long as it keeps spitting them, you keep catching them. Oh, and it only lasts an hour, so try and not get disappointed from the boredom of it.”

“The books--” He paused as one landed neatly in his glove, “They do this every day for one hour?”

“I could not enter this room when I came in last week. You can imagine the confusion, books littered everywhere, some torn in half; others with pages so torn you couldn’t tell up from down, some outside the library, blasted so hard that they went through my window, broke it in half. You can’t repair a window with tape. I checked. I paid a pretty penny for them to hole it up and make a wall there. Then, I fixed them and was happy to find really interesting titles like Theories of Evolution Not by Charles Darwin, Gregory’s Asylum, Dr. Frankenstein’s: Confessions. Can you imagine these things?”
“Who wrote these books?”

“People who don’t exist,” the lady said, creepily, “At least, not in any author list I’ve ever seen. It seems these books are from another dimension. I wonder why it’s happening. Hmm, best not to speculate too hard or they might stop comin--” Another book landed and almost took Billy’s leg out. He slapped it down with his glove. “Oh, you’re a natural. Have fun.”

With that, she was gone and the books began to spit out of the void much quicker and in numbers higher than one. Sometimes two at a time, so that Billy had to sacrifice one and save the other. Also, these books were coming at him so fast that he had to use a lot of effort to not get hit. A minute later, the librarian woman came back in and threw a catcher’s face plate at him. Oh, Billy though, now my face is in danger as well. He put it on hurriedly, not wanting to know what kind of damage flying books spat out from a void could do.

After the hour was gone, the room looked like a small library itself, with books stacked on all places. The void vanished and in its place was the square of blue books again. Billy was sweating from all sides and his bones ached. He twisted from side to side, feeling at his fingers. They hurt. Every part of him hurt. It was like he’d been Karate training.

The lady came in with a punch drink in hand. She handed it to him. Billy hesitated, breathing in and out hard, “You going to charge me for it?”

“On the house,” She said with a smile. She kicked a book or two to the side. “Damn, some still broke in half. At least you got most of them. Go on, then, see you tomorrow.”

“That’s it? You don’t need me to carry them out?”

“Oh, boy, I believe you’ll have enough work ahead of you. I’ll do this. This is the easy part.”

Billy looked around himself at the room and didn’t see any part of cleaning the mess up which included “easy” in its title. There was a smoke of torn book pages. Some of those books had come in so fast that they hit the wall opposite him and burst into dust. Others, the ones he could catch, he was able to save from that fate. Still, at the end of it, there had to be at least eight or nine stacks of books in the room along with eight or nine more stacks of books that had either survived or died during the event.

It was morning and the clock kept going tick-tock, tick-tock. Did he really want to get up so fast? He was awfully sore from work the previous day. Billy kept thinking that Simon had set him up for the job. But, no, Simon was his friend, how could he think that of him? Speaking of, a few pebbles at his window announced his presence. Yet, when he got up and looked down from the second story of his house where his room was, he saw Meryl on the grass of his backyard. She waved up at him with a smile. Billy hadn't considered that Meryl knew how to do such a thing; well, not in his direction, anyway. With her pretty red hair down to her shoulders, she almost looked attractive. Something about her braces made the effect last less than it should have.

Billy found a shirt to wear and hurried down stairs, wearing an all-green T-shirt and some baggy jeans. He didn't really think they were baggy because of his weight but that's what the store clerk called them. For once, they seemed to fit just right. He found his work boots and put those on, even though they brought back painful memories of a day catching books in a small dark room. Working at the library seemed to be like protecting Meryl had been, a task that required strength and effort and no one wanted to do it but now he was stuck doing it.

His mom let Meryl in through the kitchen door. Billy looked over the fancy tables and crystalline everything curiously. Had Meryl come to further complicate his life? Billy was sure that she'd gotten over her notebook being run over by now. Surprisingly, Meryl said, "I came to apologize, Mrs. Brant. I lied about Billy. He didn't rudely throw my book in the road. (here her face pained) Cal did it because Billy stood up to him when he tried to bully me. Billy, then, got in his face and Cal cowardly ran away."

Billy's mom raised an eyebrow. "The cameras got your speech," she said to Meryl.

Billy knew that the house was wired from all sides with cameras and audio. Nothing escaped his dad's notice, that's why Billy had to get good grades. Another reason was that it gave Billy an allowance. So, his mom, took out her purse. She said to Billy, "Come." And pulled out five dollars. "I believe your dad gave you a quarter when you messed up. It seems, however, that you've been vindicated. Here's ten dollars. Your reward for a job well-done. Thank you, Meryl for coming forth with the truth."

Billy couldn't keep himself from grinning. An ice-cream would be a most fitting reward after last night's pain.
There was more, though. Meryl wasn't leaving. "Um," Meryl said, smiling herself, "Also, I was wondering if..."

"Spit it out, Meryl," his mother told her, annoyed.

"Can Billy walk me again? I feel safer with him around."

Billy was stunned. From the time he was in fourth grade Meryl had hated him with a passion and now she had come to his home and apologized and wanted to actually spend time with him. Was the world a really weird place all the time? What about yesterday's freaky void in the library? Billy guessed that he was doomed to be in odd situations his whole life. Things didn't add up. Here he was, a bully, friends with a geek, and now bodyguard to an enemy, who, it seemed, was trying to flame up a weird sort of friendship. She waved at him again, smiling. Was she on drugs? He doubted that. The neighborhood had never heard of anyone on drugs. It was all very weird.

Billy watched her pass him by through his living room. At first, he thought she might laugh at his home but after stepping inside, she stood in shock right next to him. "Two plasma televisions?" She whispered at him.

"Let's just go."

For a moment, she seemed different like the old Meryl, full of wise-cracks and frowns. She even seemed to be getting more upset by the moment as she surveyed Billy's home. Her eyes were stuck on the glass displays. "My father said a ball signed by Mickey Mantle is worth a million dollars," she said, breathless. Her hand reached out for the glass, but Billy caught her hand quickly. His mother gave him a look. "Dad would be upset. He doesn't like stains."

As they walked out of the house, down the steps, she said to him, "I really am sorry, you know."

"I suspected that," Billy said, "But I don't yet see the why of it."

"Really? There has to be a why? I can't just be, like, a good person?"

"Well," Billy said, "I suppose you can, if someone knocked you on the head."

Meryl giggled, smiling at him. Billy felt odd at her strange behavior. She gave him a playful shove, even. "I can be nice if I want."

"Well, that's to be seen, isn't it?" Billy said, not letting himself be shoved this time. He just put two fingers on his eyes as if to mockingly say, "I'm watching you." And Meryl stopped herself but then she laughed and held onto his shoulder for a bit as they walked down hill. Where was Simon? It really bothered Billy that the kid would show up whenever he liked. He was a kid, too, but Billy felt apart from Simon somehow, as though he were older and since he was friend to him now, he was also his protector. Not that he had to be. Simon had a clever way of avoiding bullies and it mostly involved not being around them. It was an easy trick for Simon. Billy was his friend and even he couldn't find him at his house most of the time, although his addiction to Space Dreg was getting worse. Was it a mistake to tell Shini to go easy on him? Perhaps, he'd send another e-mail later.

When they reached the bottom of the hill, Billy came across a problem. It was still too early to go into the school and his newly-found "friend" was still irritatingly hanging out with him. "So," Billy said.

"So?"

He cleared his throat once, motioning across the street at the black school gates. One of the gates was open and a cross guard waited patiently sitting on a lawn chair. He only hurried out of his chair for students if they decided to cross the street toward the school. Crossing the street toward the ice-cream shop got students a nod from the man.

She smiled at him standing beside him, swaying from side to side. Billy was forced to gesture like a lackey for his queen, "Yea, we're here. Off you go."

"You're not walking me in?" she asked, looking as though Billy was trying to steal her favorite toy.

"It's way too early. Look at Rick," Billy said, motioning to the sleeping cross guard, "He's not even awake yet."

"You don't go to school early? I've seen you walk this way a lot at this time."

"I go to the ice-cream shop," Billy said.

"In the mornings?"

"It gets hot here in the summer," Billy explained, with a shrug.

"Let's go, then," Meryl said, starting to walk across the street to Billy's left.

Billy now felt awkward. What did he care if Meryl accompanied him, so long as he got his ice-cream? He sighed and walked alongside her. He had promised to protect her...again. He never had the displeasure of walking into it with a girl before. He almost forgot to hold the door for her but Billy only remembered it because to not have done it was a part of his allowance. His dad had strict rules on what constituted as depriving him of money. Not getting B's was major. Not opening a door for a girl, that was five dollars off, and he had been getting only five at the time. He wouldn't fall to that mistake again. He had failed to open the door for his mother once and when allowance time came, with the heady taste of pistachio roaming around his head, came a very assaulting disappointment in the amount of zero cash. Rules could be downright cruel sometimes.

Billy didn't need to order because way in the back, he could see Simon sitting there, hiding behind a comic book. He waved at him with a cup of pistachio ice-cream already there. "Oh," Billy said, "I guess--Simon got my ice-cream already. I'm just going to--will you be okay?"

"Sure sure, go," Meryl said, then looked toward Simon. She waved at Simon, too.

Billy came up to Simon who was looking as though he'd lost his favorite toy. He was very scared. "Wzup, bud--?"

"I don't like her," Simon said. He looked serious. He even tucked away his comic book in a hurry. It amused Billy to see him this way, upset over nothing.

"It's just Meryl, Simon. You know Meryl. I was opting to be her body guard."

"Oh, that's Meryl?" Simon asked, "I still don't like her. Maybe, if I had known the mean Meryl, yes, I understand that. Women are usually mean, it's in their nature but this, the happy Meryl, who waves at geeks and likes--"
"Likes who?"

"Well, she's just evil."

Meryl had ordered her ice-cream and was approaching them.

"I have to go," Simon said.

"But Simon--?"

"Not around her. I got something important to show you. After."
"Simon. It's just Meryl. You could trust her. She even apologized to my mom, in person and all."
"Meet me at the yard tomorrow, it's a place two blocks down from the library. You can't miss it. There's a Don't Enter sign posted on the gate."

Billy was getting upset over this but then, instead, he felt rather sad that Simon had left. He hadn't even tasted his chocolate chip and multiple toppings ice-cream. Did Meryl really bother him that much? Maybe, Simon saw something in the girl that Billy completely missed. Simon was a smart boy, that much Billy couldn't argue but did he know anything about girls? This was, in fact, the reason why Billy had stayed because there was that possibility that Billy knew more than him in this respect, if only because of his father's rules, which, for once, were working in his favor.

Meryl saw Simon walk by her and eyed him with a smile. Simon said nothing and just gave her a mean stare, rushing by her so fast, Billy didn't see him exit.

Meanwhile, Meryl approached him with a cup of ice-cream. "It's Rocky Road," Meryl said.

"Oh," Billy said, "I didn't ask."

She sat next to him instead of opposite him. He could smell her shampooed hair. What was it about girls that a descent boy with rational thoughts could just about forget everything with the smell of their hair? It rested gently on his shoulder because she was just a little too close. "Anyway," Billy said, and began to play with his pistachio ice-cream which had melted some but was still good enough, "I still feel there's a reason you're being nice to me."

"Well," Meryl said, "There is."

"Aha," Billy said, eyes brightening, "I knew it. It couldn't be true that--"
She kissed him. Dead on the lips. It was brief like maybe two seconds and he didn't feel her braces, just her soft lips against his. Then, she continued to sit at his side. There wasn't even time to react or to run away. Why would he run away? He was the bully of the school, not her. And how dare she kiss him! "I," Billy stammered, "Well--I--that was soft, yes, very."

"Thank you," Meryl said, blushing at his side.

"Er, well...it seems to be you're being nice to me because you like me?"

"I thought that was clear," Meryl said, her tone changing. Now she was mad, as was appropriate or getting there at least.

"I don't think that would be--?"

"You're my boyfriend now."

Billy looked at his ice-cream. "Now, let's get one thing clear. I'm the bully around here, Meryl." He shoved her almost out of her seat but it was just so she could get out of his way. She got up, nearly spilling chocolate syrup on him. "And I'm the one who says if you're my girlfriend or not. And you are."

Meryl's mouth formed a thin line across it. Her eyes squinted and she looked almost upset. "Okay," Meryl said.

"And I'm not holding your hand."

"What?"

"I have to go," Billy said. "Unlike you, I need my tutors."

"But you're still going to protect me, right?"

"You're surrounded by grown-ups," Billy said, "Meet you at the gate after school. And don't be late. I don't tolerate that sort of thing."

"Why? Are you the jealous type?" she teased.

"Yes," Billy said, looking back at her with an honest seriousness, "And why shouldn't I be? I got a pretty girl."

Meryl blushed.

Good. He'd leave her at that and let her think. Billy just couldn't get over the fact that his actions just recently were way too close to what Simon had said of him, of being a person that made other people’s lives better. It wasn't true. He didn't make those unsuspecting people who he shot with rubber bands that happy. Yet, since he had met Simon, he'd been up on his special tree much less and there was so much work to do at the library. With that thought in mind, he went to school to learn. He hoped it would distract him from the disturbing void at his work and the disturbing feeling in his stomach, leftover by the knowledge that he now had a girlfriend. He didn't even like her that much but that was okay. She was pretty, even with her braces, a little less if she smiled but still.

The class room had a setting so familiar to Billy that he couldn't tell the differences in it. Well, there were the first signs of Easter. A bunch of bunnies, pink, red, white had been hung up on the wall by Mrs. Daniels, his teacher. It wasn't that impressive to a room full of tenth graders. They were paper-drawn renderings of rabbits that the fourth graders had drawn out a few days back. It had their names on some of them. Mrs. Daniels, who sat in front of a wooden desk most of the time that Billy had known her was standing. She wore a plain old robe, gray and hanging loosely from her shoulders. She kept asking if people knew how to spell awkward. It was a strange thing to ask students, six of whom said they knew but got it wrong.

"Well," Mrs. Daniels was saying flipping her dark red hair to one side, "If you don't know how to spell it, do you know what it means at least?"

Billy looked up at the bunnies, then at the teacher. Then, he looked out the window, where a large open field lay before him. It was a football-stadium-sized grassy area, where some of the local teams played soccer. The irony was that he used to be out in that same field not long ago playing soccer. Now, there was an array of girls in blue and white uniforms playing soccer. A ball almost came through the window but it bounced back. Cecilia Emonds was explaining what it meant. She was at least as tall as Billy but skinny and she had on a red and white dress and she had on black heelless shoes. There was even a goody-too-shoes red bow on her hair. She had it combed down and neatly cut at the shoulders. "Awkward, A-W-K-W-A-R-D, by the way," she said, pointing at those that had gotten it wrong, "Means to infringe upon normal society in a strange way."

"No," Mrs. Daniels said, "It doesn't mean that, although your understanding of it is quite awkward."

"But--?"

Mrs. Daniel shook her head at Cecilia. "Have a seat, please. Billy?"

Billy was still looking out the window. He concentrated a little too hard on what Meryl was doing at the moment. For some reason, this thought roamed around in his head like an air balloon he couldn't pop. Was that ridiculous? He hadn't cared before. Lips, was his thought. Soft lips. He realized he was smiling uncharacteristically and then began to frown as was his usual.

"I-" Billy said, "Well, it's a matter of perspective really."

"Ha," Mrs. Daniel said, "That's an almost perfect answer, Billy. Where did you learn to think like that?"

What the hell, it had worked. This "matter of perspective answer" was his escape. He didn't even know what the question had been. He hoped they were still talking about the word awkward. "I work at a library now," Billy said, smiling. The truth will set you free, some commercials and bad movies said.

"Yes," Mrs. Daniel said, "But librarians think about orderliness, not awkward situations."

Billy almost broke out into a laugh. Thinking about awkward situations, it seemed, is all his boss, whose name was Francine, did.

"I think it has to do with the perspective of people because no one sees a situation like anyone else," Simon, who was seated in the front of the class, said. He looked back at Billy, who sat in the corner chair in the back, and smiled.

"Great answer, Simon," Mrs. Daniel said, "We're all starting to think like college students now."

Cecilia raised her hand, "Isn't it social studies hour? Why are we talking about a word?"

"Good question, missy. And we are studying this word because, Cecilia, our society doesn't know how to deal with awkward situations. Our leaders always think rationally in un-rational situations. Maybe, there is something that our future leaders--that's you people-- can do about it."

The class laughed at certain points.

"I thought we were going to learn history like the Mexican-America war, where America was unfairly set onto a war with its southern neighbors."

"Hmm," Mrs. Daniels said, "Now that's an interesting perspective. I might even say a strange one. Who started the war isn't really of importance, Cecilia. It's important that we, as the superior power, chose to act like a tyrant. Instead of ending an obviously unfair war, as you say, before it costs both sides a lot of lives, we decided to take from Mexico, a large amount of their land for our own reasons. But, no, there wasn't a real decided winner in the war or an importance to who caused it. All that matters now, it seems, is that we created an undesirable animosity between one country and the other and we, for certain, didn't act like people. When you steal a candy from your friend, do you feel bad?"

Most of the class nodded.

"And what do you do?"

"Well," another student answered, "When I feel that way because I've done something wrong, I usually buy my friend a better piece of candy or I give it back to them."

"Hmm," Mrs. Daniels said, "That sounds rational to you, doesn't it? But you tell that to the president and he would say that it was the most awkward idea he'd ever heard of."

Most of the class laughed. Cecilia blushed. "I don't think it was unfair for them. They were trespassing anyway."

"Oh?" Mrs. Daniels asked, "Correct. Please name off the first five streets on the way to your house, Cecilia."

She almost hesitated to do so, as though she was barely noticing there was no point to her argument. "Santa Cruz, Gregoria, San Felipe, Rio Ondo, Canales."

"Ah, it’s true, isn't it, your argument? But, no, we shouldn't see people as trespassing, just because they find themselves feeling strange after an unfair war, wouldn't you agree Billy?"

Billy felt like this was all about him. He had a situation where Simon and Meryl were two sides at war, didn't he? He sensed the tension between the two when he'd gone into the ice-cream shop in the morning, although Meryl had done nothing but smile. Still, what was fair? Should he be like the United States and just take what he wanted, Meryl, soft lips, and leave the other side to fend for themselves? Would Simon even be protected from other bullies? And so what if he was taking Meryl, she didn't belong to Simon but Billy's loyalty, well, that was something that was torn between the two. How would he see Simon, if he found him on the street, after having cut ties with him because of Meryl? "It's," Billy said, sighing, "Unfair to your friends to leave them when they need you most."

"Oh?" Mrs. Daniels said, "Billy, you're getting so good at this. And you see the U.S. and Mexico as friends?"

"Best of friends," Billy said, "But if I wanted something and it would leave Mexico alone for a while, then I would probably take it and come back to Mexico when I could. People need space for themselves."

"Selfish," Mrs. Daniels said, "It means to be all about the self, me, me, me. But that doesn't seem to be you, Billy. I know you from before and it has to do with something simple like pencils. Listen to this story, class. It bears meaning to what we've been talking about all along. It was in fourth grade and one student had spilled a packet of pencils all cross the floor. It was after class and most students were on their way out. Now, Billy, who some said would steal the lunches of the young for sport and throw rubber bands at peoples necks, un-substantiated facts by the way, or rumors for those of you who don't know what that meant, looked back at that person and started helping them put away their pencils, while the rest of the class filed out and laughed. Do you think, Billy, that you would leave Mexico, truly, even if there was something you wanted more?"

"Not if they needed my help," Billy said. Billy knew that he couldn't leave Simon alone to fend for himself, not at a time like this when every bully in the school was trying to outdo the other. How had it become so tension-filled? Other students had piled up in a line for his protection during recess and Billy had had to turn them down. There was just too much to do. He couldn't deal with everyone else's problems. How to cure them of their need for a protector? Couldn't they protect themselves? Well, he would have to talk to these so-called bullies. He was one, after all, and a top-tier one at that, because no other bullies messed with him.

As he was thinking this, he looked out the window again, where the girls were playing. He thought he saw a glimpse of one of them, kick the ball really hard not seconds past. Then, he turned to look at Mrs. Daniels, who was now openly arguing with Cecilia about who had better equipment in the war. It wasn't even about the right war, anymore. Billy thought he distinctly heard Cecilia comment ignorantly that the Mexicans had a big advantage on their camels. Then, he looked back out the window and a soccer ball was coming, round and white with a blue star in the center. It wasn't supposed to go through the window or, at least, if it had gone through, it was supposed to break the window because of it. For a second, like the swirling void at the library, a small circular opening had appeared in front of the window, the ball came through, smashed a kid's desk, and spilled some papers over the floor. The void vanished right after.

"Well," Billy said, trying to look unconcerned, "That was awkward."

The class laughed.



The dark streets of the place were colored purple in some places. Buildings on her left and right looked abandoned. Tagged-up walls showed stressful signs of a recent war of some kind. Across the whole eight-foot wall of a building were the words "Hail Nosferatu" written in crimson. Where had they gotten such life-like paint? Cats were everywhere on the streets. Never in her life had Keya seen so many cats. In her old Indian town there had been a large garden where blue jays nested by a pond in numbers she could not count. The mass of cats roaming the streets reminded her of these blue jays, looking so odd in a transparent green place. Here, though, the cats were white and black, to the contrast of a foul odor, like that of a dirty sock and buildings either burned black or tagged with unknown phrases and words. She thought she had heard the footsteps of men earlier, but, no. There was nothing. She could hear nothing but the stray ruffling of cats in thrash cans. It was strange. The cats didn't even seem to "meow" in response. Did they see her? What kind of strange place had the witch sent her to? Well, she seemed kind at first but here was a place that was perhaps worse than where she'd been. At least in India she knew who her enemies were.

Here she wandered trying to keep her dress from slipping off her shoulder, both straps, now suffering from large gaps. It was strange that just a few days ago she'd been in the middle of a ship, sailing with her father toward the Island of Ilecaradetier, and now she was without a father or mother, both found dead, daggers through the chest. Where was she?

A darkness engulfed the streets. She kept walking hurriedly from street to street but all of them seemed the same. Large buildings with billboards everywhere showed signs of life but no one was around. The streets were surely different but not the buildings. Keya noticed very few houses around, if any. Through the corner of her eye, she kept catching a flash of movement, but she gave it no mind. It was way too fast to be human.

Keya was confused about her mother's parting words. In her hands, she had her mother's head cuddled like she was a newborn. Her mother had said, "Be strong," and choking on her own blood, "In the coming days." Keya wasn't sure what she meant. Did her mother know about the witches and the arranged marriage, which wasn't supposed to be really the way of her people? It was possible that she didn't know about the witches. The waves of the sea swayed, when the assassin's had left the ship in their scuba outfits. Her knees had felt like jelly, then. And strong wasn't the word for how she felt when her aunt had been declared the successor of her parents wealth, including successor of Keya herself. Chalibia had just lost two of its most celebrated monarchs and in its place had won a tyrant. She didn't want to think about it.

The wind picked up, as though disturbing a warm filthy air with a less foul odor. It still smelled everywhere she went and she couldn't quite place the smell. It was the remains of something, something burned.

Then, she rounded a corner and was shocked to find a building with lights. They were high up on a floor she couldn't see from her height. Then, the lights were gone. Somehow, as she had turned, the wind blew in her direction and then, the lights were gone. It was strange. She felt wrong.

Suddenly, a pang on her neck, like pain but burning and itchy struck her. She was taken, lifted off her feet. Her mom had told her to be strong but this was too much. She couldn't escape these beasts. Then, she saw one, a man, dressed all in black with a collar that was un-collared with red eyes and a beard and two large teeth like those found on a wild boar or a fierce tiger. She couldn't hang on anymore. The pain was gone but so was her strength, drained, she felt drained.

As the shades opened, light poured through a window into the room. Keya heard voices on the other side. She couldn't move. Her feet and arms were strapped to a table with large leather straps that constrained her from the whole arm. She tested their strength but she was too weak and too young to even begin to pull at them. Keya opened her eyes, too scared to witness what was happening to her. She wished she could feel at her neck. Was she taken by vampires? Weren't they old legends and fairy tales told to children to scare them at night? Were had that witch transported her to that was different?

She remembered how she was taken. Why hadn't she screamed, she asked herself but then, she knew the reason. It was the same reason she didn't or couldn't scream now. Those men with the high-collars and black suits had a magic to them. They had the ability to disappear in front of you and could only be seen when they wanted to be seen. They were a real problem, indeed. This was like a puzzle, that her father always tried to test her at. Her father. A tear escaped her eye as she remembered his lectures and his stern looks when she'd walk down in the middle of the night for a little cake. This was how she'd got to them before they were completely dead, in fact. Her shuffling in the kitchen had alerted her to noises in the boat, that weren't supposed to be there, the clanging of lamps, a yell "No!" Stray motions, knocks on the walls and two heavy thumps. Was there no justice in her world? There seemed to be much less justice elsewhere. Why had the witch sent her here? Did she know she would be attacked by these creatures? Perhaps, she did. Keya had mistaken her for a good person, unlike her counterparts. She eyed the ceiling for a bit. She saw pikes. These were purple too. They stuck out of the ceiling downward, as if put there to scare captives.

Another person was in there, she realized or else who had put up the drapes, so that the light would come in?

A door burst open of a sudden with a clang. The man who had captured her walked in the room. He wore a cape that was black on one side and red on the other, all silk it looked like but it was shiny. He growled, as his nose turned into charring smoke. "Blasted it all," the man cursed. He waved a hand and the blinds closed by themselves. The room now was as dark as it could be but Keya still saw the spikes. She was scared of what would happen. Who was there to save her? She was dead. There would be no reason to stay strong once that happened.

"What are you, huh? A magic user, perhaps you're more valuable than that, a spell caster? What the heck, where is your scar? Such a pretty scar I'd left on you and now it's gone. Great Lord of Hell, you're a healer!"

Keya started to feel odd about her circumstances. This man said he wanted to place her as something she was not. She didn't even know what he was saying. She, also, felt a chill at his words. She knew she'd felt that thing on her neck. Now, here was this man, and he said she didn't have a scar from his bite but she'd felt those two teeth dig into her and her blood, as it left her body.

If that wasn't bad enough, another man dressed in the same clothes came into the room. He was much taller than the first, who'd been five foot six, now here was a five foot eleven man, with a gold pin on his shoulder. It probably meant something of importance to these people. Now that Keya knew her wound had healed and she wasn't in fact a werewolf or a vampire, she threw out the idea that they were vampires. It was still roaming around in her head but she liked to rationalize it better. Again, the image of her father and his unsolvable puzzles came to her mind. How do you fit a triangle into a square if the triangle is three times the size of it? She never had an answer that was within the realm of possibilities. She'd said to make a bigger square, which was the obvious answer and he'd just laughed at the suggestion.

"Wrath, what is it now?"

"A girl, sire," Wrath said to the man in the gold pin.

Wrath waited as he looked at her. "Sounds about right. We hadn't seen one of these in weeks, though. Where'd you find her? She a captive from another raid? You know, that Piersley fellow just doesn't quit."

"No, sire, she's not one of those. She was wandering around in the streets, walked right into our trap, all nonchalant and stuff."

"She was roaming? That's a strange thing. Don't you find that strange, Wrath?"

The other man actually looked nervous and he scratched at his large teeth for a brief second. "I, er, sire, to inform the Highest would be to disobey a direct order."

"This isn't just some girl, you nit-wit--what the hell is that?"

"What, sire?"

"The blinds, why are they like that?"

"Oh, somehow when I came in, the girl had opened them with her magic."

"She's a spellcaster?"

"A healer, sire," Wrath said, excited, "Check her neck, no holes at all, and all the damage from the straps, gone. Can you imagine, a healer in our army?"

"Healers are dangerous tools, Wrath, but useless to our cause. Wait. You said she used her magic?"

The other man's mouth stood open in shock. "Stand very still, Wrath."

"What's wrong, sire?"

"Healers don't have magic. Not like you think. They can't open shades at will, even as a defensive mechanism."

In the blink of an eye, the blinds popped open. A man, regular and human-looking in a brown coat and wearing the ugliest brown hat with its edges torn appeared in front of Keya. He used a knife like an expert cook and had her un-strapped in seconds. Who the hell were these people?

The man named Wrath had been too close to the blinds and he burst into flames when the light hit him, dropping to ashes in front of the table where Keya had been. She stumbled off the table to the side. The other man had a blade out and had, in a flash, taken the lead vampire man's head off. The beast turned into ashes.

"What the hell, huh?" He asked of Keya, shaking her, "Where have you been? We thought you were dead."

"Mark," A voice said from behind him. Teresa, the witch from the other world, appeared, now wearing an all-purple dress cut short at her ankles with flat heel pumps and sunglasses. Her hair had been curly blonde, now it was a fiery red. "Mark!"

The one named Mark had her by the shoulders. Keya realized she was shaking. "She's not your sister, Mark," Teresa said, "And you know it."

"But Teresa, we lost so much, so, so much," Mark said, near to breaking down in tears.

"Be strong. Let it go. Come."

"I guess," Mark said. "Good bye, sis."

They aimed to leave her in the dungeon alone? Why save her to leave her there?

"But--?" Keya began. The witch waved a hand at her, as though in goodbye but, then, Keya vanished again, and she could see her body becoming a void.

"Where did you send her to?" She heard Mark ask.

"To correct our mistakes," the other one said, and then her world was a room of darkness.

Billy had strapped the baseball glove on too lightly he realized. Every other book or so would slam against him so hard that his palm burned with pain. The room was a quizzical blue color today, not that it hadn't been as blue the day before. Was the void growing more vivid? The purplish-black hue it emitted was making his eyes hurt. He would have to wear sunglasses the next day. It had been a week now. His idea of a girlfriend had included telling Meryl where and when she could kiss him. She'd done so, at last count, at least three times by then. Once, for having saved her from her clumsiness. As he was walking downhill toward school one morning, some confused youth had thrown his skateboard out of his yard and it rolled sideways onto her path, almost tripping her, if it weren't for Billy's beefy hands that grabbed her by the waist and stopped her. That got them embracing and then Meryl giggled. It was a thing she did more often now. Before she'd visited his house, Billy didn't even think Meryl had the ability to giggle. The first one, of course but that hadn't counted as a real kiss because a real kiss, it surprised Billy to find, lasted a little longer than a second. Six. The third had lasted ten and it tended to be quite dismissive. Soft lips. His head was in the wrong state to catch books. He'd managed to save far less than the day before.

Throughout the week, Billy had saved at least six-hundred books from exploding or having their pages torn by the speed at which they were launched out of the void. How did Francine do it before him? Billy smiled at the thought of Francine wearing a baseball uniform crouching in the small room, to catch books. Billy was wearing a suit that day. There was a dance at the school at eight. With the effect of the books coming in more and more each day, Billy promised to help Francine for a half an hour longer than usual. He no longer sweat as much, he realized, and he also realized that those baggy jeans his mom had bought him two months ago were starting to live up to their name. He might even have to buy a belt. In this respect, the void had paid off. In other respects, like him getting ten dollars, instead of the promised twenty, well, things were just down right wrong. He suspected it had something to do with Simon's free lunches. Well, it kept Billy healthy at least. It seemed that Simon's dad really liked to pack a sandwich with vegetables, even the chicken ones tasted more like broccoli than anything else. In any case, he'd make it to the dance on time, that was for sure.

As he was thinking this, the void became a rumbling noise of eek, eeek, eeek. Could Francine hear that? The last book spat out of it and Billy was sure that the hour was up, since he couldn't see the void clearly because the room was so full of books and book dust. Plus, he could feel it in his bones now. When the hour was up, he usually felt winded and weary, as if his body had a response time to the void. It anticipated when it was going to close. He had mentioned this to Francine and she had speculated that it was nothing more than just a normal reaction. Francine didn't say much more about it than that and Billy was grateful for it. He didn't need another distraction. EEEEEEK. Finally, Billy took off the face plate and walked out of the room.

"Francine!" He called out to the librarian. She was a fairly attractive lady for a forty-year-old aunt of a geek. She wore glasses, which diminished the effect, somewhat and was sometimes prone to clumsiness, not unlike Meryl. She twisted in her chair at her desk, and walked over to him through the narrow bookshelf pass. Billy was now thin enough that both of them could fit side by side but just barely. He let her brush past him. "It's making a noise," Billy said, closing the door behind him. It was her daily routine to close the door and clean up the books in the morning and that's why she had brushed passed him, her keys retrieved from her belt pouch at her waist. Today, she wore a sun dress with flowers drawn in purple around it to the background of a yellow field of falling leaves.

"What's that?" Francine asked him.

"There's a noise in there, why do you think I closed the door?"

"Hmm," Francine said, "Let's see this noise business, then."

Billy opened the door, and began to take off his uniform. Francine stopped him. "It's been forty minutes, Billy."

"Really?" Billy asked, wondering why his body had responded to the closing early.

When the door opened the noise was gone. Francine sighed, starting to walk over to her desk but then she peeked into the room. "Hmm, that's odd."

"Pardon?" Billy asked.

"There's a girl there. Where the void should be."

"And the void?"
"It's gone."

Billy walked into the room with her, while Francine crouched low. They both stared at a dark-skinned girl about Billy's age with the face of someone familiar. Billy certainly didn't know her but she was the prettiest girl he'd ever seen. She didn't look so good as far as her dress went. It was a light blue dress but all the shoulder straps were torn and her hem was falling off at the sides, so that Billy saw most of her stomach. Francine left the room and came back with a blanket. By that time, Billy was covering himself from blow after blow that the girl was dealing to him. "Who are you, huh? You're going to try and kill me too? I know that witch sent me somewhere horrible again. I just know it! All the world's I've been to are all full of lies and unjust crimes, even my own." She cried for a bit as she continued to pound on him, although Billy was trying to play the part of gentle giant, as he protected his face. Her hands weren't all that rough on him, not any rougher than the books had been. She had gentle hands that felt soft as they struck him. Then, she stepped on his toe.

Francine came in just in time. She dropped her blanket and restrained the girl by grabbing her hands. She then began to kick and scream. "Help! Help!" They got her quickly out of the dark room and through the narrow hallway into the actual library, where she dropped to the ground, exhausted form her display of bravery. Billy had never witnessed someone so determined to escape. She definitely had heart. What she didn't have, was proper attire. Billy found himself blushing a couple of times, when her dress didn't quite cover her belly.

"Oh," Francine said, "Child. What to do with you? Come, calm down calm down. We're not going to hurt you. Oh, him? Yes, he's a bully but I'll keep him at bay, you can count on that."

"With magic?"

"Magic? Where did you get such a wild idea?" Francine giggled consoling the girl. She'd let her go and was now just observing her on the floor, sitting with one leg folded and one not. "What we need to do is get you some clothes."

"You don't use magic at all?"

"What kind of place you think this is?" Billy found himself asking.

The girl gave him a mean stare. "Billy, shush, now go. You'll be late for your dance."

Billy looked at his watch. Time had changed. It was nine. How had time changed by more than an hour in a few minutes? What was happening?

"Miss?"

"Yes, what, what is it, Billy?"

"Time changed," Billy said.

"What do you mean?"

"It was five forty when we went into the room, now my clock says nine and it's dark outside."

"And these are all things that seem strange to you?" Keya asked.

Billy decided to leave after that, not wanting to ask any more questions of the strange girl for the time being. Plus, it was going to be a hell of time explaining to Meryl why he hadn't been at the dance.

"Well," said Francine, concern growing on her face, "Why wouldn't they seem strange to us, deary?"


Keya looked up at the pretty woman with a tear in her eye. These weren't weird people that were going to do bad things to her. These were normal people who had rescued her from the bad things. She wondered what to do now. Maybe the second version of Teresa had been good and she had sent her to a more pleasant world. If so, she hoped she never found that Teresa woman again. And what of the poor boy she assaulted during her rage? He didn't deserve that kind of treatment. Not after he had helped her up and all and especially not from a princess. She would have to apologize to him later. "I'm sorry," she said to the woman with the glasses. She had on a most enchanting dress. It was part of the reason why Keya had taken her as a witch. Teresa's dress had been just as alluring, and mysterious. From what Keya could gather she was in a library and they had taken her out of a very secluded room. She wondered if that was a secret hideout or something. Why would a librarian have such a room and it was full of books? Maybe, the boy was her helper and he happened to be bringing a book to the back, when he'd seen her. It still didn't explain why he needed knee pads. Keya's stomach grumbled. In all the commotion she'd forgot of her hunger but now that she was back in a world with not so much turmoil, it started to come back to her.

"Oh, my, child you must be starving," the librarian said. "Come, we'll get you something right away. It'll hold you up until I can pick up pizza."

"Pizza?"

"Don't tell me you've never had pizza, child. Where are you from anyway?"

"Chelibia, near the face of the earth," Keya said.

The lady raised an eyebrow. "I'd figure you were from India from the way your thin eyebrows go up and down. And from your small nose of course."

"Chelibia is in India," Keya said, brightening. Was this her world and she was only in another country?

The lady helped her up and they walked along a wall of books. Everywhere she saw were piles and piles of books, all littered on the floor or arranged in shelves but even some of those arranged in shelves were sticking out, as though the shelves themselves were about to burst. Next they passed a small square metallic thing with a button. "What is that, miss?"

"My name is Francine, and yours?"

"I am Keya, heir to the throne of Chelibia."

"Oh, royalty is it? I would have expected a better dress."

"It's been a rough trip," Keya said, truthfully.

"I can imagine, you traveling through dimensions and all."

"What?" Keya asked, confused, "What is a dimension."

"Another world. It's like, there's an onion and it has all these layers even thin ones and if you peel them off one by one, it would take you forever to finish, that's how dimensions work, multiple earths, all peeling off one by one. It's written in one of these books. You see that room back there was spitting them out one hour a day in great numbers. Strange thing, when you appeared it just happened to stop."
"It just stopped?"
"Ya, Oh here we are, just give it a good kick."

Keya felt like she should ask more about this dimension thing but she was too hungry to care.

Keya and the librarian had passed a place that was two-people wide and then broke into a corner of the room, where smaller bookshelves held great quantities of books. In between two bookshelves was this large black eight foot metal machine. It had a small door at the bottom. "What is this?" Keya asked, untrusting of it.

"It spits out chocolates from time to time."

"Chocolate!" Keya exclaimed. Chocolate was the rarest of delicacies in her world. Here they had a machine that gave them to you for free. She wouldn't have imagined it in a million years. It was a wonder of science. Keya kicked it and hurt her foot. "Ow, ow," she hissed at it. Then, something dropped. Clang!

Francine stuck her hand through the small black door and she came out with something wrapped in plastic.

"This isn't chocolate," Keya said.

"Oh, no, silly," Francine said, "It's inside the wrapper."

"Chocolate is wrapped like a gift?"

"Well, I guess you could say that. It's more so that it won't melt."

Of course, the machine by itself couldn't keep chocolate cool. These brilliant scientists had thought of everything. When she saw the brown substance that Francine pulled out of the wrappers, her mouth watered and her eyes brightened as though she'd never seen food before. She snatched them from Francine's hands, chocolate or not, she was starving. She ate these so fast, almost too fast to enjoy the amount of flavors. The chocolate hit her head so fast, that she almost fainted. Was there candy inside that chocolate? Candy and chocolate in one go? This place was fantastic. It was like being in the land of kids. The second Teresa had definitely sent her to the right world and she did not intend to leave it.

Keya was about to kick the machine again but Francine scolded her, "No, no, not yet, not today, child--oh, bullocks!"

A loud siren rang, like an alarm.

"You set off the fire alarm. Here come the sprinklers."

Water came out of the ceiling as though it was raining. Was it magic again?

"Don't be scared," Francine said, taking her by the arm. "Come on, let's go get you that pizza. You ate so fast, I'm surprised I still have my fingers."

"But the water, where is it coming from?"

"Well, that infernal machine only gives one chocolate to people. Then, if you try and get two, it kind of gets upset."

The machine was magic? Of course. It had to be. How else could she explain the taste of honey on her lips and the taste of so much chocolate in her mouth in one fell swoop. After that, the unexpected rain seemed like a welcome relief from all the stupid changes she'd gone through in the past week.

Yet, when they burst through the doors of the library, the rain stopped. There was the faintest evidence of daylight. There was daylight in this world. It definitely started to look like her world and, if it was, at least she was far, far away from the bad guys. "Where am I?" Keya asked, "I've only ever seen one other people with your color skin and I'm thinking this is America."

"Correct. California, to be exact, a small town in the south, believe it or not. We used to call ourselves, Evertington Grove, now it's called Louiseville."

"Why did the name change?"

"Things change, honey," Francine said, "Like it or not, they do. Now, tell me about your parents. Maybe, we could reunite you with them soon."


A large spoon stared at him at the breakfast table. His father had been so proud of him recently, that Billy was allowed to have breakfast with them in the morning, again. He would have to excuse himself to Simon later. Billy was bothered by what Simon had told him that day when he'd first met Meryl. He had said to meet him later and later it had been. Simon had waited outside the library that day but Billy hadn't come out until seven thirty because he'd decided to help Francine put the books away. Away wasn't the right word. They put the books in random places where they fit in the library. That day, Billy had been confused about the weird location of the vending machine. The big black thing was attached to the wall, according to Francine, who said it was there when she'd acquired the property. She had just put shelves around it to make it part of the scenery. Billy had been confused as to how to use it that day, too. The machine didn't have a number pad or a coin slot or a dollar bill slot. He couldn't even see the candies. The glass was tinted. Even if he put his face close to it, it was unclear what was in the machine. Francine said just to kick it. He kicked it and a candy bar, clanged to the bottom like it was magic or something. He put his hand through and was surprised to see that it didn't get stuck. With other fat people, it was a gamble. With Billy, it was fifty-fifty but that time he'd been like a skinny person, who just took his hand back out of the hole wit no hassle. It was a cookie chocolate thing that tasted a lot like bon-bon dipped in peanut butter. He didn't even see a name on the wrapper. It was a clear black-gold wrapper. The mystery of the vending machine would have to wait. Then, he met with Simon, who was in a suit. Why did Simon have a suit?

He met Simon beside a dumpster outside. "Hey," said Simon, his old chirpy self returning, "How are things, big guy?"

Billy shrugged in pain. "You wanted to talk to me, right?"

"Stop being cryptic."

"Well," Billy said, "It's just I just had a long day, Simon."

"Tell me about it. Did you see the old man?"

"The old man?"

"This is what I came to talk to you about. At around noon, an old man appears in the library. I didn't believe my aunt when she'd mentioned it to others but, yes, he appears there."

"So," Billy said, confused, "This isn't about the void."

"That?" Simon asked, "That's simple dimensional science, Billy. It's part of the whole that makes Space Dreg a reality. I would have thought you knew that."

"Yea," Billy said, "But this is the real world and there is a big difference."

"Yes," Simon said, sighing, "We'll leave that part of the discussion for another day. But let me tell you about this old man."

"You really believe he appears there? Francine is a joker. She might just be messing with you."

"I seen it with my own eyes. My aunt brings him tea."

"You skipped school?"

"Called in sick, what does it matter, I'm a straight A student."

Billy blushed. "So what?"

"He knows what's happening."

"What do you mean?"

"It's too hot, even the summer here."

"It's California, Simon," Billy said, "It could be hot here in the winter."

"No. You're not making sense, Billy. You could enjoy the Easter dance with Meryl next week because of this guy."

"What do you mean?"

"He says he's here because he needs to keep dimensional stability."

"And what does that mean?"

"Don't you see?" Simon asked, brightening up. "He says that people are traveling from one dimension to the next and this is what's causing the books to appear, a dimensional break, which allows for books to be stolen. Here, in this library, is where the bad guys are coming to."

"Someone's stealing the books?"

"And they're going to come here to take them back," Simon said.

"We'll need to talk to this guy one day."

"Saturday," Simon said, smiling.

"But Simon, the library is closed on the weekends," Billy said.

"The library is closed every day, that doesn't stop you from coming."
"Well," Billy said, "I'll think about it. Meryl invited me to go fishing with her family."

"Meryl? That girl again? Please, Billy, listen to reason, she's evil."

"Evil?" Billy had asked him, feeling a little betrayed, "C'mon Simon, try and act cool around Meryl. Look we said we'd help each other out no matter what."

"Fair is fair," Simon whispered at himself, as if it was a curse.

Tomorrow was Saturday, Billy thought with a sigh. Today was the day he made it up to Meryl. He had been aware of the breakfast thing and had invited her over. She'd never had breakfast at his house before this. Billy wondered how a girl he'd known for three years had never seen the inside of his house or had breakfast with him. Perhaps, it was because she hadn't shown an interest in him until just recently. Billy thought about this fact for a minute or two each day yet didn't know what to think. Meryl was nice and she'd held his hand when he'd apologized to her about the dance. She wasn't overly harsh or quick to yell at him, though she was rather upset. She said, "And you left me there holding my purse all day, waiting for you, worried sick. I have a mind to not kiss you ever again!"

This brought a worry crease to Billy's forehead. He promised he'd make it up to her and this fancy breakfast might just do that. His mother and father, Billy suspected, ate like rich people. They were brought their breakfast in trays by maids that Billy had not seen before. Maybe, it was because he never had breakfast in his house. During this time, he usually skipped out to the ice-cream store. He couldn't remember the last time he had had breakfast in his house. It certainly was during the time when her mother was still cooking burnt eggs and serving spoiled milk. Billy remember that part of it. Now, he couldn't step into the kitchen without permission. There was just too many things valuable in the living room that Billy couldn't step into or aside of or close to.

An enhanced smell of bacon hit him on the face. He fell victim to it. For a second, he forgot about Meryl and Simon and his problems at work. A lady in a black and white maid uniform was carrying a covered tray. "Master Billy, your breakfast."

His mother and father sat on both ends of the table, as usual. Their eyes only ever darted away from their tasks to look at how well the servants did. His mom had this unknowing and mysterious glance that Billy couldn't figure out. He knew that she was not against him, what with arguing with his father about the allowance thing but then he saw his dad, engulfed in a newspaper, and rubbing on his beard. Then, he would adjust a silk purple tie that he wore everyday to work and look back at his newspaper. It was strange to watch them. Billy hardly could have guessed that they were together. His father had never guessed Billy's question but he had said to him one time, as Billy watched them with confusion, "There's a proper time to act uncivilized, Bill." What the hell did that mean?

"I invited Meryl to breakfast," Billy said, uncovering his tray to reveal a plate with ham and cheese and scrambled eggs and bacon in heavy quantities. In the middle of the table they set a plate on a stand with large honey breads on it. Billy looked toward his mom for approval. She nodded at him. Was this real?

"It would have been rude of you not to," his father said, not taking his eyes off his newspaper.

His mother said, "Sweet girl, her. And what are you to up to, nowadays?"
"She invited me to go fishing," Billy said, "Over the weekend with her mom and her dad. I wanted to bring it up but--?"

"Shhh," his father said, "You may go."

His mother didn't even say anything. She looked down at her coffee cup and then at a servant woman standing beside her patiently. She tapped the cup and the lady rushed to fill it, nervously. Luckily, the woman was gentle or she'd have spilled it and gotten fired on the spot.

"Except," Billy said, "I might not go, you see."

Meryl showed up just in time. A maid ushered her inside. She was wearing a white and blue dress with black slippers. Her hair was tied with a lace ribbon. She looked a lot like a fairy tale girl, even with her braces. She smiled and shyly walked over to the table.

"Sit, sit, missy," his mom said, smiling at her. She sat opposite Billy's side. The table was wide enough that Billy had to speak up for others to hear him.

"Sorry I'm late," Meryl said, looking over at Billy's plate, which was halfway empty.

His father cleared his throat. "Oh," Billy said, nervously, "This is my father Meryl. Father this is Meryl, my girlfriend."

His mom raised an eyebrow at him but she knew already, didn't she?

He didn't put down his newspaper to acknowledge her. "Great," he said, "It's about time."

"And might I add," his mother said, "What will you be doing in the fishing trip, dear?"

"Well--?"

"Uh," Billy said, getting up, not having the heart to finish his meal, "I'm not going, I've decided."

His mom shot him daggers with her eyes. Those piercing black eyes regarded him, as if to ask him if he was testing her patience. Billy didn't know what limits his parents had. They could be the example of pristine calm one moment and a complete and utter mess the next. "Uh, something has come up at work, I mean," Billy said.

"You're leaving me for that stinky library!" Meryl snapped.

"We should really just talk outside," Billy said.

His father cleared his throat before Billy got up.

"Excuse me," Billy said, quietly.

His mother raised an eyebrow at him. Really? What was she thinking? If only one time, they'd tell him what they expected, he could be less lost in the world.

Meryl looked upset, her eyes flaring.

She did follow him out. Billy would have thought that wasn't going to happen. A maid followed her out.

She was courteous to a point, standing aside as they got downstairs and then calling after him. "Your lunches, master Billy."

Great. Now, they made him lunch, too. He took the bags. He didn't have the heart to inspect them. Meryl was already so upset. "You!" Meryl snapped, "What are you thinking, huh? I exist too, not just your work and your little friend with the wavy hair."

"This has nothing to do with Simon, Meryl. Look, if only you two could get along."

At this she gave him a stare quite like his mother's. It was so similar that Billy took a step back in shock.

"Did I say I was sorry about the dance? Well, I truly am but I can't go with you tomorrow. Something unexpected came up. It's not like I was trying to intentionally ignore you. Besides, you don't know how hard it all is, Meryl. Do you think I like leaving you? Well, no, I don't. And quite frankly, I didn't like leaving you to yourself at the dance but that had to do with work, too and I hated it."

"You should quit, then!" Meryl yelled at him.

"Really? It's the only thing that's made my parents reasonable all year long."

"You would consider quitting for me?" Meryl asked, sounding surprised.

"Yes," Billy said, "But I still have to see to work on Saturday. It's something important."

"To do with Simon, always Simon. Simon this. Simon that. What about me?"

"I just explained that I do almost everything with you!"

"Oh, shut-up Billy!" Then, she turned her back to him. "Go, go," she pleaded, "Do you think I need to be protected right now? I dare a bully get at me at this moment."

Billy didn't doubt the truth in those words. He didn't even want to be near her when she was fuming like this. She would calm down later, then. He tried one last time to touch her shoulder. She grabbed his hand and pushed him away.

"I said go," she said, the formation of a tear was in her eyes.

Billy left, now feeling drained from the discussion.


The next day, Keya had to adjust to the brownness of the library. Most of the books were brown and dusty. The one named Francine had been true to her word. A large amount of life was in this thing called pizza. Her eyes nearly watered at its flavor. Francine had frowned at her for eating so much of it. Keya promised never to do that again, though she doubted she could control herself.

"Yup," Francine said to her as they entered the library, "As I expected, the floor is completely dry. I could wager that the machine stopped the sprinklers as soon as we stepped out. Most of the books from this earth are in shelves, at least."

Keya gave her a look. It was curious that she thought about these books so much. Not one of her concerns were about the chaos in the place, just that her chaos wasn't wet. Keya explained to Francine about her parents the night before but Francine only laughed and said that that was the world that Keya knew and not this one. Was she really in another earth, a different dimension? Upon further inspection, the library looked to be more like a run down cottage than a library. It was five feet in the back room and close to fourteen feet way at the back. It lost a lot of height because of the slanted roof. It was a restructured building. Keya knew when buildings had been rebuilt just by looking at him. She had studied the structure of her palace and other palaces in her earth's India. There, she had been to a place so grandiose, in the kingdom of Kreska, near Chalibia, where one could get lost in the garden of it. The palace had red bells that announced the entrance and exit of the king and queen and of nobility. It had blue bells to announce the arrival of monarchs from other countries. These bells were huge, about seven feet tall, with loud gongs that it took seven people to ring them each. They had been built on the city walls, like strange forms which belonged to the formation of the city itself. She had told Francine about these and she had tsked at her saying, "Yes, grandiose but where there are nobles, there are armies. And armies mean war."

Keya doubted that Kreska and Chalibia would ever go to war. Her parents had made quite an impression on the king. They even exchanged horses, the highest form of honor among friends in her India. Francine explained to Keya that in this earth arranged marriages were all-too-common in countries outside of the United States, even some to the point where girls are given the option to either agree or be put to death. Well, Keya had not been given such an option but she almost died because of it. She still had unnerving memories of those men with the teeth and their scary yellow eyes. Those spikes she remembered most. Purple and pointing down. Had they intended to put spikes through her? And then what? She shuddered to think of that. People had probably died on that table she was strapped on. What of her saviors? They had to stay in that world and fight on. She shook her head, getting the thought off of her mind.

When she entered the library, she counted the aisles of books where the shelves were separated in rows. There were six aisles but none were arranged in any order. Keya had to walk around piles and piles of books, all without order. "Yea," Francine said, "I can't seem to get around to putting them in order. I did at first, of course. I can still find the authors from A through G, at least. After that third isle there, I started shoving books in everywhere. They were coming out of that hole too damned fast."

Keya smiled at her curse.

"Oh, pardon me, my queen."

"Quit calling me that. I'm not even a princess. Not anymore."

"Ah-ah, what did we talk about?"

"Remorse doesn't solve our problems."

"Correct. And what's the solution?"

"To move on," Keya said, sighing. It was hard to move on but she would try. It was more than she had done to save herself from the vampires. Well, she'd been strapped to a table. It was nearly impossible to move on from that.

"I'm still looking into your parents. What did you say their names were?"

"My father's name was Paka Rungi and my mother's Estelle Branghim. They were married in India but I think my mother had a mother from France. She knew French."

Francine laughed. "Not necessarily. Maybe, you were too young before they started, but some members of nobility are taught a different language from their early years. Your mother probably learned French. Child, you never met your grandparents?"

"We didn't move away from the palace much. My dad loved to fish. We went fishing so much, I got a love of the sea, going out to the middle of the ocean and--?"

"Ocean? India is close to the ocean? Well, there's one example of how your world is different. Still, ah, here we are. Come over here to behind my desk. Quit looking down the aisles."

Keya turned around from the aisles and walked passed six or seven piles of books before she got the front desk of the library. It was a big podium going from one end of the room to the other, ending at a doorway that opened to the side, so that people can get to the other side of the podium. It had a flat top, on which rested piles of books clustered close together, so that anyone entering the library would have to go around almost the whole room to see Francine.

She was looking down at an encased table. When Keya, opened the door and walked beside Francine, she saw a screen through the table. Francine was typing on a keyboard like they do on television. "What is that?" Francine asked.

"Apparently, there's some technology problems. This is a computer, dear. I searched your parents names on the internet. Ha, there they are. They died here, too. That's a curiosity, isn't it?"

"How do you know they died?"

"You can't read, Keya?"

"No," Keya said, blushing, "I never learned. I was sort-of a flower picker. My parents never encouraged me to learn or not to learn."

"A princess indeed," Francine said. "Well, the first thing is this." Francine brought out a book. "You'll have to learn how to read this because it's very important to what I'm talking about."

Keya examined the small but thick book.

"What's it called?" Keya asked.

"The Time Travel Inconsistency by Mark Piersley. Do you know this name Keya?"

"No," Keya said, "But there was a boy named Mark. Do you remember when I mentioned someone saving me?"

Francine nodded, excitedly. "It was him. But then, I heard his name again, when I was on the flying ship. The witches mentioned a Mark. I don't know about the last name, though."

"A curious thing, that. Four Marks in one place."

"Four, miss? I'm not too sure how math works in this planet but I only counted the three."

"Well," Fracine said, off-handedly, checking the computer again, "The fourth one will be appearing here any minute now. He may be a bit older than you remember him."

"Says your parents were murdered on a cruise ship off an island close to Africa."

"That sounds familiar, miss."

"They do have a daughter. Your age. Gone missing..... I'll be. You've landed somehow in another earth almost exactly like yours. Not yours, of course. Not if you never heard of pizza. I'm pretty sure everyone's heard of pizza by now."

Keya didn't know what to think. Her own world was full of mysteries she yearned to discover. In the garden of her palace, she'd found a small wooden complex, like a shack but bigger. Inside it were a set number of knives and katanas. When she'd asked her father about it, he said he wanted her to stay away from that place. Had her father been some sort expert in weapons?

"I don't know if they had," Keya said, "Like I said, most of what I did was in one palace or the next. The chocolate machine, however, I'm almost certain there is nothing of the sort in my earth. Chocolate is very rare, almost as rare as gold. I've only had chocolate once and I'm a princess. My dad traded a boat once for a large block of it, at least the size of a piece of cheese."

"Wow," Francine said, "What about the cocoa bean? Didn't they figure out how to extract chocolate from it?"

"What's a cocoa bean?"

"That means you don't have coffee!"

"What's coffee?"

"Oh, yes, your world has suffered indeed. I could not imagine a world without morning coffee. You need not worry yourself over it, child. It's not really something for teens, anyway."

"I'll get you started on this reading business, not that I will like it any better than you do. I'm a librarian, not a teacher. I thought of putting you in that school down the street, so that you might mingle among your own kind, strange kind yours, almost teenagers, going about causing mischief, refusing to learn or learning to refuse. I almost envy your opportunity. I never had the chance of a personal tutor myself, always had that bothersome room full of rules and uncaring students. Only a few wanted to actually learn."

"Ugh," Keya said, "I don't think reading is an opportunity. It might be worse than a servant's chore."

"Well," Francine said, "I won't have any more of that princess talk from you, missy."
Keya had grown more accustomed to Francine by the minute. She was so magnetic that it made it easy for Keya to get used to her. She was definitely not like her mother, who would tell her to do as she wished. Francine had made rules for Keya, one of them being, not to get out of her sight, unless Francine said so. This rule had made her smile, since she was still a little shaky from her past. She didn't want to be out of range of any people for a while, nice people anyway. Keya felt that Francine was a nice person, if a little strict and a lot weird. Who put on Elvis movies at all hours of the night? At least, even in another world, people knew about the king, Keya thought.

In the back, near the magic chocolate machine, a blue light erupted, blinding and bright. It was so fantastic, that Keya dropped the book Francine had handed her and almost turned to run for the door. "Calm," Francine said, "Calm, Keya. Jeez, what have I said to you?"

"Sorry, Francine, it’s just it's so bright."

"I swear if a few little lights scare you, how are you going to handle real life, huh? Well, you're young yet but you have to learn some time."

In a few seconds, just as fast as it had appeared, the light faded. "What is that?" Keya asked.

"It's Mark," Francine said, as though she didn't care, "I should go make tea. He gets so irritable."

"It's the man you said knew about dimensions?"

"All he talks about, kind of gets annoying."

"He wrote the book," Keya said.

"Good, that's deductive reasoning. But, no, I mean, yes, him but not this him. A him from another dimension. Who knows, a you from another dimension could have written a book just like that. Now pick it up and try not to drop it again."

Keya went over to pick up the book but she almost dropped it again when she heard, "WHERE IS THAT DAMN TEA, WOMAN!"
"You see how he gets?" Francine said, her eyes rolling. She already had a tea cup and a plate in hand. "You go give it to him. He's receptive to children, although you wouldn't think it with that growling voice."

Keya looked at her and hesitated. "Um," Keya said, "I'd rather not. I mean you know, you said not to leave your side."

"Well," Francine said, "That's true but, in this case, you should be okay. He's a self defense expert."

"Really?" Keya asked, "I never met one of those, so he can fight?"

"Fight?" Francine asked, "Well, I never seen him move more than an inch from beside that vending machine but, as much as he boasts, I assume he can. Take the tea, girl, quit being so scared. Ha, it'll do you good to see him. He'll take that fright right out of you. Gave me quite a scare the first time, too but I got over it and if I can get over it, so can you."

Keya took the tea but her hand trembled a little.

"WOMAN!" Another shout came. Keya almost dropped the tea and the book. She had to give the book back to Francine just to keep the plate steady. And slowly, now wearing, blue shorts and a descent top, which was just a cloth of cotton with sleeves and close to not covering her belly but with a stylish flower printed dead center, and slippers, Keya approached the last aisle of the library, where at the end, there sat a man on a chair. He was staring at the chocolate machine. He kicked it and kicked it while he sat. For some reason, he kept getting the chocolate bars to fall. How come it worked for him and not for Keya?

He didn't see her coming or didn't care that she was coming because he screamed again, "I SWEAR IF I DON'T GET--?" He saw her, then.

Here was a man dressed in a white suit with a purple tie. He even had a hat like the other Mark, brown and torn at the edges and ugly. If there was anything that Keya remembered from the previous Mark, it was that stupid hat. In the vampire dimension, he'd been wearing a black suit, slack pants and shirt tucked in, with a belt of some sort. She didn't get a good glimpse at it. It was too dark. She also couldn't get a handle on the shoes. Were they purple or black? Yet, this man, was all in white.

In a calmer voice he said, "Oh, er, sorry. I thought it was...no matter. Is that my tea?"

Keya couldn't speak. His voice was so dangerously like that of an old man, although his face put him at near thirty years old. His hair grew down his forehead to one side. "You're my little sister."

Keya almost dropped the tea at this.

"In another dimension," he said, quickly, "Not here. Your skin is much too dark. In that world, you were English and your weapon of choice was the slingshot. I do find it curious that I see you here, of all places."

Keya approached him slowly.

"Um," he said, taking the cup. "Did she mention me, by any chance?"

Keya was still mute, stunned by how close his face was to the vampire Mark. Keya nodded in response.

"Good," Mark said, "That'll show her."

"What was your sister's name?" Keya found herself asking, although she kept looking at the machine he was kicking in wonder.

The chocolates kept dropping at his touch.

"The trick is," Mark said, "To not open the door. You open the door and grab a chocolate and this thing becomes unstable the next time you kick it. Please, go ahead at take them all out. Oh, and keep the door open as you do so because it plays by rules. If the door closes, then the chocolate becomes forfeit. It just...disappears."

Keya smiled. He'd shown her how to get more than one chocolate and it was so easy.

"Don't tell that to that woman," he whispered, "She'll just grow an unhealthy habit."

He almost made her laugh. It was hard to trust anyone outside of her own dimensions. She already trusted Francine but that was because Francine had fed her and taken her home and given her something to look forward to. Keya sighed, realizing that was one of the rules.

"I can't lie to her," Keya said, softly.

"Darn it! It's her insane addiction to rules, isn't it? What's she got you wound tight around her waist. I know her; she wouldn't use fingers."

Keya listened to him, smiling, as she picked the chocolates out of the machine, making sure she kept the door open.

"Well," Mark said, "Now that you're here, I suppose I aught to talk about dimensions. Where are you from anyway?"

"India," Keya said, still pulling chocolates out. How many were there? She had a pile of at least two dozen.

"Really, that far? Parents dead, I suppose."

Keya nodded.

"Ya, sad story. It's the reason why you're my little sister in the other dimension, except there you're from England and are white-skinned. A little bit of an old attitude on you, too, unrefined some would say. Of course, then, you're also an expert with the slingshot. One doesn't make the other better, but it does make you funnier, bit less attractive to the boys, a boon to me. Never thought of you as pretty and nice, that's a dangerous combination, going to have to keep them off you with a stick."

"I don't think about boys," Keya said in a hurry.

"Oh? Good. Keeps me from using my weapon of choice, good old katana. Got it from Ming back in my days in Japan, when I met his would-be band of misfits to defeat a horde of vampires. Not what you think of as vampires, it's just a figure of speech. Ah, the good old days."

Keya was wide-eyed at his mention of vampires. "In one of the dimensions I visited, a whole town was full of vampires and it was dark and no one was around and the streets were purple and buildings were dark as could be with red letters across them."

"Ah, yes, the Tenth dimension--but wait... You're a traveler? I would not have pegged you as a traveler. To think; my own little sister."

"What's a traveler?"

"What's a--? Are you not learned in the ways of dimensionality? Wait, you didn't get the book, did you? Well, it doesn't matter. I could explain some of it before the vanishing. Don't let it scare you; I'll be back tomorrow. It's just a bit creepy at first. Umm, that's good tea. See, the traveler's are people who can dimension shift at will, from one dimension to the next, whenever they wish. Lucky fellows, going around changing the world every time they appear in one dimension they change something and then travel to the next. Ha, but there's the gist. That's the easy bit, you see, going around traveling and shifting and whatnot, easy. I used to do that. But, then, things went wrong....people started changing things for the worse, dimensions began to break-up, worlds merging into one another, chaos, displacements families dying from one place to the next."

"Is that how my family died?" Keya asked, finally grabbing the last chocolate.

She let the door slam closed.

"Ha, no, no, miss?"

"Keya," she said.

"Keya, right. Serena is the other one's name, going to be a close call on the memory chip. It's a joke. I don't have a chip in my head. Anyway, there's people who have stable dimensionality--you didn't know this?--what are they teaching people in school nowadays, tsk, tsk? If you got this thing, this stable dimensionality, no matter where you go you'll find that the same thing has happened to you over and over, you might be Indian and a hell-of-a-beauty but still, even in my world you've got those pretty eyes, even in my world your parents were assassinated, is that right, am I right?"

Keya nodded, unwrapping a chocolate.

"Slowly, miss, I won't have you eating too much of that. Unhealthy, that. One or two is okay."

Keya smiled at his nature. She sat with her feet crossed, as he kept telling her about dimensions and how Keya was another person in his world. "Everyone else is a dimensional token, and these are people that could be the same or could be quite different from dimension to dimension. Unfortunately, I don't fall into any of those categories. There isn't one dimension that I've visited where I am not a central figure of a war I do not want to be in but such is the way of leaders, except Lincoln, he was a token."

Keya laughed remembering a small part of her studies in history but not much. She was so interested in those gardens. "What the traveler's union, that's something established as soon as our dimensional world found out how to do it, concluded was that the science was right but the action was wrong. Later they even changed their name, can't quite remember. It was good to know how to travel but it was bad to travel because dimensions are fragile like pieces of paper. If you went around poking holes in those pieces of paper, they would eventually become something resembling grated cheese."

"Then, they gave me a name. An unstable dimension shifter, who knew how to travel, but decided not to for the good of humanity. However, the union didn't like this because it was a political maneuver to travel, bringing gold from other dimensions to what the union considered the "real" earth. This world is the real earth, by the way. It hasn't been infested with those foul creatures yet."

"The vampires!" Keya exclaimed.

"Seen them around in your travels?"

"I don't think I'm one of those?"

"One of what?"

"A traveler, mister."

"Mark, please."

"Yes," Keya said, "I know your name, mister."

"Oh, well, good. How'd you get so far from your dimension, then?"

"I don't know. When I first vanished, there were barrels and one of them spilled a gold and black dust, then I wished to be somewhere else and I was in a flying ship with witches. Then, they sent me to that Tenth place, then a witch and you saved me, and she sent me here to a dark room with a boy in it."

"You came across the royal treatise. Those are the ladies in the flying ship. They're trying to stabilize accidental dimension shifts. You see that dust is what remains of a dead traveler, ashes if you will. Guy must have died or something and it produces unexpected results. The ladies are traveler's themselves and they're not witches, no magic, I mean. In some dimensions, yes, they do have magic. Not in the platform--that's what they call their ship-- a platform. In the platform you probably saw people in boxes, small jails before they sent them back to their own dimensions, where things would progress as they should. Yet, I find you here."

"I asked one of them not to send me back. Bad men were trying to marry me off to an older man named Steven."

"Whoever sent you to the Tenth dimension has my thanks. Even if you are not my little sister, I would still not wish her to suffer in another dimension."

"But she sent me to an evil place," Keya said.

"Not her fault," Mark said, "Under pressure, these ladies are forced to randomly transport people. I suppose she thought anywhere was better than where you had been. The tenth dimension, not exactly better. The tenth dimension is an evil place, one of the worlds that has fallen to those evil men. Not vampires, as you call them. Not, in the sense that you think. If it was me you saw, then it was probably the only band of resistance left in that world."

"They were good," Keya said, "They played a trick with the blinds. The vampires didn't even see they were there until it was too late."

"Invisibility is the first skill of the traveler," Mark said, smiling, "I remember learning that. I was about your age when it happened. A lady walked right into me."

Keya laughed.

"You think that's funny, walking into a poor kid and getting his perfectly good ice cream all over her shirt? Well, no. I wanted that ice-cream. Never mind that. Let me explain about the vampires before my tea is gone. These are people, who were turned into weapons in one of the dimensions. Not vampires. These were real people, chained and poisoned with magic, thought it was a real nice way of fighting those wizards of the past, with an enemy that couldn't be defeated, immortal and such. Of course, you cut their heads off and they're good as dead. The poison seeped into the blood and made them inhuman somehow but then, the wizards had not counted on, that just like Frankenstein, their own creations would turn against them. Some of these vampires had magic but they had not known as people because they didn't have the senses to suspect it. As vampires, all their senses were enhanced, they were even smarter and quicker than normal people and they chose not to serve their masters but to become masters of their own destiny. This mess with the vampires was the worst thing since the three curses."

"Three curses?"

"Another story, child. Let's stick to this one. In any case, as soon as the vampires found out how to affect others with their poison, through the draining of human blood and waiting a period of a day or two with their bodies hanging like bats off a ceiling, their armies grew to uncomfortable numbers. Then, among them, were travelers, so the disease of the vampire spread from dimension to dimension. Some say the only hope of saving us from the vampires or saving any dimension from the vampires is the resurrection of the fated one."

"What is the fated one?"

"Oh," Mark said, "Him. He's a special traveler. Not only could this traveler shift from dimension to dimension at will but he could, also, control the time of reality. Because time has a weird relationship with dimensional shifts, it has been studied but never practically worked on. Time is a messy thing, could be worse than the process of dimensional instability that may doom us all. Even if the vampires travel everywhere and spread evil, there is still hope for those who stand up and fight. However, if rogue traveler's of the union keep traveling, poking holes in dimensions, for the purposes of financial gain, like stealing gold from palaces of other dimensions, then every earth will unravel, becoming unstable with voids appearing and making parts of reality disappear forever."

"What do you mean?"

"It’s like undoing a roll of string," Mark said, "It might be slow but eventually, there will be nothing left."

"The same people who are trying to save us are killing us?"

"Not me," Mark said, "I try to keep stability; that's why I'm here every day."

"And what of the special guy?"

Her answer didn't come, as a white light, made her get up and scatter back to where Francine was studying a pile of books, a cup of tea in her hand. She yawned and said, "Finally," she said, "You learn something from him?"

"He said the world was going to end," Keya said.

"Yea," Francine said, sipping her tea, "He always says that."


It was the end of the day. He crossed the street in comfort, knowing that Meryl would meet him on the corner, next to the guard. Billy's cross guard now was a different man, a man named Willy. How did cross guards get paid, if there were two of them working two different shifts? They only worked for maybe two hours. Willy was a short dark-skinned fellow with an orange best and wearing a white shirt and black slacks underneath with purple and faded cloth shoes. He spoke in an old tongue. "Ey, you nearin' that ther'um, youngin' an' such?"

This question stunned Billy. Meryl wasn't there. He had put his back pack away in his locker, he remembered, and Cal had given him a smile, an unnerving knowing smile and had left. Billy was still uneasy near Cal. He had got in his way on purpose but Cal's cast was off by then. Billy felt weird and tense around Cal, yet he refused to blame himself over what had happened. True, it was partially his fault but Cal had the option to move out of his way. Besides Cal was okay now, what did he care? There were bigger problems.

Where the heck was Meryl? Simon came walking out of the school's gate on the other side of the street.

"Young blood, I ask, oh--wait-n'um--'er come's that fellar."

Willy got up quickly and put up his sign, growling after a speeding car that almost took him. The car stopped in steep, its wheels screeching.

A big-gut man in an apron came out. Simon ran across the street to meet up with me. In the background Willy yelled, "Kid's're crossin'! Kids're crossin'! Is you nuts, mister!"

"So, are we going?" He asked Billy.

"I don't know," Billy said, "Meryl's pretty mad at me."

"Oh, her. Don't mention her around me, please."

"What's wrong with you, huh?"

"Don't act like nothing's wrong," Simon said, looking disgusted. He adjusted his glasses. He was looking up at Billy with a sense of desperation. "The world is wrong Billy. Don't you feel it, doesn't it feel weird, being this hot in the spring?"
Billy sighed. For days now Simon could not get rid of the lingering feeling that something was wrong with everything. Billy liked to think of the things that were wrong with one person or one thing. "Well," Billy said, "We can't fix everything. Let's try and take one at a time, and, first and foremost, is your hatred of Meryl."

"She's part of it," Simon said, almost too loudly, "She's part of what's wrong."

"Everything alright, Simon?"

He wasn't his usual happy self. He, then, touched Simon on the shoulder, trying to get him to fess up with the truth. Instead, Simon chirped up in a jiffy and brushed his hand off his shoulder with a shrug. "Eh, don't worry about it now. I think we should go see him. The guy who keeps talking about dimensions and such."

"Er," Billy said, not wanting to say how much he wanted to see him too, "Meryl is very upset. She didn't show up today because of it."

"Ha, she finally let go of your leash?"

"I'm not on a leash," Billy said, smiling. They began to walk up the hill, when they saw Willy come back to them and grab Billy's shoulder, "Sonny, hey, holdasec, sonny. I tole' you ta wait'asec, no? Frivolous kiz, 'ways on the run. The girl--I reckon--she was one, with'um pink shoes, nay, its a certainty, think I got oh-wiff of ole number 5, perfume, sonny, donna get confuse--she said, a thin' hada'come up, tole ole Willy ta deliver the news."

Simon just shook his head. "Worried about nothing," he said. "She might be evil but at least she's courteous."

Billy smiled. It was the nicest thing he'd ever said about her. "Let's just go. I have to be at work soon."

Simon walked alongside him. "Hey, about Space Dreg, something's happened. I got a lot of people attacking me."

"Can't help you," Billy said, smiling because Simon had started to look like he was actually getting some sleep, "Shimi refuses to talk to me, since she found out I might get banned for playing fair."

"Isn't that always the case?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, if you're playing fair, then all the corporate bullies want to teach you a lesson but, then, if you're a bully, they just leave you alone."

Billy thought about Simon's argument. Again, Space Dreg related almost identically to his life. It was unfair that he had to choose between Simon and Meryl but only when it was unfair was his life at home better. His dad had even called him Billy and had made sure he had gotten a lunch. Billy didn't know if this was because of two consecutive A's in math or because of his fond relationship with Meryl but he found that he was happy at home, for what seemed like the first time. In another respect, the bullies seemed to be getting more aggressive with the geeks and even normal students, who were just weaker. Well, Billy wouldn't stand for that forever. Billy was waiting them out. It took so much to wake the giant. Did he want to fight them? No. Bullies were his kind and he had a weird respect for them. They kept things balanced. Yet too many bullies wasn't fair, that was job endangerment. He would keep an eye out for them. He found a girl stuffed into a locker right next to his that day. No. It definitely wasn't fair.

"You've got that mean look in your face, is it because you can't play Space Dreg?"

"Let's just say," Billy said, "That Monday, I'm going to make a choice. I'm going to fight back or leave them be."

"Who, what are you talking about?" Simon asked, concern showing on his face. Billy made a turn on a block. It was called Street C. A few houses down was Simon's house. "Never mind. You can make it from here, right?"

"Yea, yea," Simon said, starting to skip. "You can't come up today?"

"Work," Billy said, "And it's your fault, by the way."

Simon smiled back at him. Yea, Simon was definitely his friend now. How did he do without the little guy before? Simon had taught him the art of the sandwich. Now that Billy had his own lunch, Simon's sandwiches were the hit of the lunchroom and for a small fee of a buck a piece, Simon was making money for his father's business and at the same time promoting it. It was very interesting to observe this on the side. Something working while bullies roamed free and stuffed girls in lockers. Really, a girl? He would definitely have to make a choice on Monday.

His mother saw him out of the door before leaving to work. She tried to get one of the servants to give him another lunch bag, a dinner bag to be exact. Billy waved it off as he skipped the steps of the front of his house saying, "No, not that important."

It was the first time Billy had refused a meal. Billy was in a hurry to get to the work of catching books. It was good work and it gave him time to think about things. And he definitely needed time to think. Besides that, he was curious to see what Keya was up to. He had learned her name from Francine but Francine had kept her at a good distance since she came out of the void four days ago. Keya didn't even seem to notice him, too engulfed in a "How to Read for Beginner's" book, which was a thin book from another dimension and a title which had shocked Billy when he saw it. She was reading The Time Travel Inconsistency, curiously enough, it was the book that had actually avoided being caught by his glove. This book actually tried to, magically, pull itself back into the void. Billy was in time to catch it and he felt like he was in a tug-o-war with it and the person casting a strange magic on it from the other side of the void. He finally won the battle, but five or six books had been turned to dust because he wasn't there to catch them, being somewhat fixated on fighting the war for the book.

What had Keya been doing reading it? Could she even read it? She had her attention mostly on that other book. And a journal, from what Billy saw. She was on the floor, because the library had zero seats, other than counters on which multiple books sat or had spilled onto. It reminded Billy of a little city with tall buildings made of books, multiple and in large numbers. She had been writing words down, too, but he saw her mostly involved in reading. It was a curious thing to Billy, since he had been almost staring at her and she paid him no mind those past three days. He had gone passed her and right into the void room to catch more books, although Francine had said the void would no longer appear. She was wrong, of course, but Billy didn't know why. Something about that made Billy worry a little.

This time, he was a few minutes late because he was taking a shower and had put on clean clothes, a striped black and gray shirt and black slacks with purple shoes. He looked almost ready to go play golf, professionally, and what was worse presentable. Billy didn't really much care how he looked but recent changes in his home had included him looking good wherever he went, despite his weight, which was becoming less of a problem. He had lost ten pounds in the past two weeks.

He went into the library, shaking the door a few times. It wouldn't open of its own accord anymore. Billy had to shake it a little more each time. The library was a mystery to him. It had voids, too many books, a weird vending machine and a dimension-man who appeared only during the day, according to Simon. It was like all those stories in the books were becoming real and popping out into the library itself.

He'd mentioned Simon's theory to Francine, who had nodded and told him to get back to work. Was the library going to be attacked for its books? When would the thieves come, if Simon was right. Simon was saying that someone was stashing these books that came into the library, so that they could later come and get them all at once. Would they decide to take the library itself, Francine, Keya and old man and all? It seemed like the least possible thing to happen, to Billy.

This time, Keya was reading books. She was putting away a set of dishes. He turned to look behind him because Keya had turned to look at him. Billy had this odd notion that if a girl was looking at him, then it was either because he was in the way of the real target or that he had something on his face. He wiped his face. Nothing. She was really just looking at him.

Keya was in a pair of silver boots and an above the knee green skirt and blue top. She looked much too mismatched for a girl but Keya had come from another dimension. Maybe, girls didn't like to match in other places. "She said not to talk to you. Not for a while, anyway," Keya said, "Because she thought I was scared of you, can you imagine that?"

Billy shook his head, smiling.

"And you had saved me from the books and I yelled at you. I'm sorry about that," Keya said, smiling back at him, "I was scared at the time. Still...it wasn't your fault. I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"Oh, er..no," Billy said, "I'm glad you're okay." Billy thought about Keya as no more than a good friend at the library, though. He hadn't gotten dressed up for her, that was for sure. He had got dressed up because it was professionalism and he had been made to do it. Yet, he realized, if he had really wanted to, he could have put on some jeans and a t-shirt. It was hot enough for a t-shirt. Was he trying to be noticed by Keya, simply because she'd ignored him the past three days?

He was looking almost too intently at her green eyes. How had she come upon green eyes in India of all places? Billy stood transfixed by her, standing there holding a plate in one hand.

"I should get back," Keya said, "Francine is showing me how to wash dishes. I never got my hands wet before to do work. It's quite refreshing."

Billy nodded at her as he stepped from one side to the next, dancing around piles of books to get around the counter to the back, where he almost had to duck to get into the secret room with the void in it. It had probably been used to store old dusty books in it before but now it was empty, except the pile of blue books that represented the void. When Billy went in, the blue books were gone. It was time but the void hadn't showed up. The pile was gone, too. He tested the room a little. He went back out and came back in. It was still gone.

"Francine!" Billy called.

Francine came out of the kitchen with yellow gloves and soap in hands in a rush, as though the building were on fire.

"Oh, sorry," Billy said, looking at her from across the room, "It's just..the void is gone."

"Good one, Billy. Now get back in there. I'm not paying you to stand around and play jokes on people."

Billy went back into the room. He came back out. Outside, in the darkness of the narrow hall, he found Keya, a foot shorter than him, staring up at him, "So?"

"Francine sent you, didn't she?"

"She's my third-dimensional mother, well, that's what she said to call her. She said that when I called her Francine, it sounded like I was making fun. You're saying the void is gone?"

"Yea," Billy said, "But it's not like it's the first time."

"Francine said it vanished the first time because when I came through time changed, so the hour changed. Maybe time changed again. Are you sure the void isn't there?"

Billy walked into the room. He pointed at a corner. "Wow," Keya said, "You weren't making fun of Francine."

"Why would I do that?" Billy asked.

"Well," Keya said, "I do that all the time. I put salt in her tea. I gave her a chocolate bar with nothing in it but that was tricky, since if she sensed the bar with her fingers, she'd notice the trick but Mark showed me how to do it. Then, one time--"
"Who's Mark?" Billy asked, quickly. Then, he cursed under his breath. It wasn't his business, was it? It didn't matter was more like it. Why was Keya playing tricks on Francine?

"It's how I show her I care," Keya said, "Mark said that in his world, people played tricks on each other all the time. It makes life more interesting."

"Well," Billy said, "It sounds mean to put salt in one's tea. Maybe, if there was a rule like no mean tricks, then yea, I'd go for that."

"You like rules?"

"No," Billy said, "But I live by so many of them. One more isn't going to hurt."

Keya giggled. Couldn't girls just laugh? It made Billy nervous. He didn't want more problems with Meryl.
"You want to meet him?"

"Oh," Billy said, "Yea, I'm meeting him with Si--my friend tomorrow."

She grabbed his hand without his permission and had to struggle to drag him along. "C'mon," Keya said, looking back at him with a smile, "You should meet him. He's really smart."

"I thought he only appeared in the day."

Keya shrugged still holding his hand. She was so much like Simon, it made him smile just to look at her. Touching her hand was making him sweat almost but he was glad to touch her soft gentle fingers. "He doesn't make the rules," Keya said, "He just follows them. He's been here five hours now. We talked about so many things. I told him about you and he really wants to meet you, too."

"You talked about me?"

"Oh, well, Billy, I know about you from Francine, of course. Too bad Simon couldn't come. I really wanted to meet him."

"Well," Billy said, "I'll bring him tomorrow."

"Francine is taking me to the movies tomorrow," she said in a serious tone, "You want to--?"

Before she could finish asking him along, Billy replied, "Let's go talk to Mark, then."

Billy let her lead him to the back of the library passed the last aisle where less piles of books littered the ground than in other places. Billy still had to kick some of the books aside in order to sit. Keya took a seat in front of a man dressed all in white with a young face but a frown on his face and a weird dirty hat and she motioned for him to sit next to her. It was like Billy was about to attend a session of story time like the seven-year-old section of a bookstore. This was the old man Simon had spoken of? He looked to be in his mid-twenties or younger, Billy couldn't really tell.

His voice was deep when he spoke, unlike what Billy expected. "Hello," he said, "Are you the one making all that racket in the backroom?"

"You can hear that?" Billy asked, "I thought you only appeared in the day."

"Sometimes in the night but that woman refuses to make me tea."

"What woman?"

"He's talking about Francine," Keya volunteered.

Billy gave her a smile, then made sure he looked back to Mark quickly. Mark's eyebrow raised at seeing this but he didn't make a comment. "What's your name?"

"Billy," he said.

"Oh, nice to meet you, Billy. What's the matter, then, you look worried?"
"Well," Billy said, "It's just that the void always appears at five, yet today, nothing."

"A curious thing," Mark said, "Can I ask you a question, Billy?"

Billy nodded.

"Not a man of many words, I see. Or maybe just shy. Anyway, since I have your permission now, have you seen any voids like these elsewhere?"

Keya laughed, "Don't worry. He asks everyone that question. Francine said he asked her the same thing but she told him to stop being a foolish young person."

"Yes," Billy said.

Keya stared at him in shock, her laughter cut short. "What?"

"Indeed," Mark said, "When, if I may ask?"

"One of them appeared in my classroom, a ball came flying in through it and then it was gone."

"Oh," Mark said, "That's just poor dimension control, Billy. I would like you to stop doing that, if you please. I don't want to lose a hand or anything of that sort."

"Doing what?" Billy asked. "I haven't done anything."

"Oh, deny it, then! Keya, take him away, just as stubbornly as you brought him."

"But," Billy said, "I don't know what you're talking about. I came to ask about dimensions, not about me."

"That's the same question, boy," Mark said, "Didn't you explain to him about the fated one?"

Billy looked at both of them in disbelief. Simon had said that he was the fated one, too, but he hadn't mentioned anything about dimensions.

"No," Keya said, "I barely just today got permission to talk to him again."

"Permission?" Mark asked, "That blasted woman and her rules! Where's my tea?"

Keya got up. "Let's go," she said to Billy.

"But I haven't got any answers."

"He won't talk to you when he gets like this and after four Francine refuses to make tea for him."

"He's just going to stay here all alone?"

"Alone?" Mark asked, "No, no, my dear boy. I'm surrounded by books. The knowledge of the world. I left one there on the counter. Tell that.... Keya's keeper to give it to you."

Mark had stopped himself because Keya had given him a mean look. Those two had a weird relationship as well. Keya had surely changed since the time when Billy last saw her. She was much less aggressive, for one. And she acted much more like a girl than he had expected, despite her ugly blue top. Who had dressed this girl?

It wasn't a surprise to see Francine, sitting before the counter looking at the see-through tinted glass in front of her. From close by it was clear but from far away it looked tinted. "This internet thing is fabulous," she said, "Oh, and Billy, why don't you take the book with you. Apparently, it’s part of your job now."

"What do you mean?"
Francine gestured toward a four by six inch green book on the counter, sitting all by itself. It was not in a pile like most the books in the library and it looked old and dusty. "Claims he put it there but I never seen him set a foot off that chair of his. I swear that young man was put in this earth to irritate me."

Billy cleared his throat and let go of Keya's hand, who he realized he was grasping a little too tightly, "What do you mean about the book and work?"

"It's to do with the job of you making a void, so that the books can start rolling in again. What did you think I meant? And, were you holding Keya's hand?"

"No," Billy said, "She was holding my hand. It's quite different."

"Is that the story you're going to stick to boy? She's much more attractive, her word against yours?"

Keya looked at him, an eyebrow raised then she smiled and said, "I held his hand, jeez."

"For what purpose, missy?"

"Just to lead him around, so he wouldn't get lost?"

"Lost? He's been in a dark room catching books for a week now. I doubt he needs to be led around by the hand like some three year old. Now, no more of this holding hand business."

Billy would have said "gladly" but felt that it might send an almost too accurate portrayal of his feelings toward Keya. Billy wrestled with himself over if he really did have feelings for her.

Then Keya, like all girls near his age, rebelled. She put her fists down on her sides, stomped her foot on the ground and grabbed his hand all the while saying, "I'll grab his hand if I like, how's that, huh?"

"Always the little princess."

"And quit calling me that."

Billy wanted to leave. "Yes, well...I have to go." He grabbed the book quickly and had to be ushered out by Keya who refused to let go of his hand until she was out of Francine's sight. The piles of books helped to make it a short trip out of Francine's sight. Billy was almost out the door, when he felt her hand on his and stopped. He looked down at his hand, and Keya waved at him with her other hand. "Open sesame?" He asked.

Keya giggled. It almost made Billy growl. "So annngry all the time, what's wrong, huh?"

"It doesn't matter," Billy said, "I have to go and read this book. Maybe, it'll have more to say than that mean guy."

"He's not mean," Keya said, defensively. She even let go of his hand. "He's just.... not used to the afternoons. You really should meet him tomorrow during daylight."

"I guess I have to. I promised Simon."

"But--the movies, you see me and Francine go but--?"

Billy interrupted her, "I'll see you tomorrow when you get back." And dashed out of the library at a sprint. Thank God she hadn't been holding his hand. He would have dragged her home with him. And then what? He dared not to think on it another second. He had to call Meryl because he finally had a day off.

Keya felt that a smile was forming on her lips. She tried to hide it from Francine, as she came back into her line of sight but slowly. "Free spirited much?" Francine asked.

"Mark said I could do it," Keya said, "If I wanted to."

"Naturally," Francine said, "Mr. Fancy pants gets what he wants. He keeps undermining my authority and we'll see who makes him tea from now on."

"I will," Keya said, tipping a stack of books over on her way to the vending machine.

"Where did you put all those chocolates?"

Keya stopped herself. She had seen the chocolates? "In the library. Not at home."

Keya knew this was Francine's concern. At home, the rooms were so neat and in order. Even in the refrigerator all the vegetables were standing just so and inches from each other just so and alphabetically, Keya thought. Apples next to celery next to cucumbers. Keya guessed that because she couldn't have order at work, Francine might as well have it at home. But she couldn't have order in Keya's life. Mark had told her that. After a few days of following rule after rule, Keya had simply decided to stop following Francine's rules and make up her own. This was also part of what Mark had said to her. He had explained, "Well, it's all well and good to follow some rules but to follow rules for the sake of following them, well, that's controversial to thinking and most people are used to thinking for themselves. What's the point of being free of danger, if only to be tied to safety?"

Keya had got really stuck to this point. She didn't want to be tied to safety. She had been tied to safety all her life in the palace and it had led her to act scared and insecure around people. She had been led to weakness, is what Mark said but she could be strong if she chose to. Then, Mark had somewhat idly pointed to a section of the library that held self-defense books. She was currently studying Mr. Lee's Philosophy of the Inner Chi. The inner chi parts kept referring back to personal freedom, to be free of oppressive forces. Keya had taken so much reading lessons from Francine before learning how to do the reading herself. She was a quick learner with the ta's and sh's and ch's and differences in consonants and verbs and nouns but she had spent a lot of time deciphering her book. It seemed that the other Mark, her other savior, wasn't concerned with teaching her how to be rude to Francine or how to disobey elders but rather how to become a better person. The other Mark, time-travel Mark as she'd come to call him, had a deep sense of honor and respect for people of all periods in time. Time-travel Mark told her to keep her senses in all situations, even when captive, which she'd not done at the time of her capture by the evil men. Now that she knew they were an experiment of man, she no longer referred to them as vampires. It made them seem less threatening to her.

Time-travel Mark reminded her of Billy, who in a sense treated people kindly, even when he himself got treated badly. She found Mark engrossed in a book about roaches and their habits.

"Fascinating," Mark said as she approached him. How could he even see her without turning his back? "The boy gone?"

"Well, yea. You kind-a kicked him out."

"Good," Mark said, "I never liked bullies."

Keya regarded Mark, frowning. She crossed her hands. "You will be nicer to him tomorrow."

"I think," Mark said, "I shall act toward the boy as I wish. You think that guy is the fated one, don't you? Him? A bully? Please, Keya, I thought you were smarter than this."

"It's not his weight or his face that speaks of what he is, you told me that yourself."

"Ha," Mark said, "And since when do you listen to me? Did you listen to me when I told you Francine was the cause of all this, this torment? No. You keep trusting that woman."

"She saved me from a hell unknown to me before but now I understand that the only break and difference between the two of you is that you love nothing and she loves me."

"I only try to help you, Keya and her, at all times, imposes rules on you."

"Well, that's where you’re wrong. She tries to protect me like maybe no one protected you. Why are you the guardian of this gate, anyway? You like to talk about everyone else but never mention your own situation. Why are you here, huh? Is it to manipulate me into hurting people I care about?"
"You care about the boy?"

Keya blushed, "I was talking about Francine," she said quietly.

"Okay. I will tell you why I am the stupid one involved in this dimensional stability thing. However, the three curses, that's a topic you're still too young to hear about. I'll have none of that nonsense. Me? You want to know how I came here? Well, it's a love story, that's why I despise telling it. A long time ago, let's say ten years or so, I was younger at the time, not like I am now, and gullible. I had a set of friends that went and fought vampires in raids, or what some would call in a group. We had different types of specialty fighters. Me and Leroy fought with Katanas. Leroy was a young man, about my age, with about the same build but think of a big forehead and a sense of humor. He also had this rugged nose and a frown on his face, a worried look on him always. Another, you met her twice, her name was Teresa, a witch. She could make magic happen with a wave of her hand but there was restrictions to her magic. You see in those days, magic was split into two groups. Those that could cast it by saying a word and those who could use what was around them to create it. The healers and others came later, because of parental seeds being passed from one child to another. Dimensional breaches weren't yet real in those times but me and my team knew about them. The fourth one in the group was named Michael and you, of course, just imagine your beauty and anger and spirit all put into a white girl with blue eyes, same hair. Michael was an expert in most types of armor, and he fought with guns and bows and crossbows. You fought with a slingshot, a bag of marbles hanging by your neck."

"I was your sister, you said," Keya reminded him.

"We found you deserted in alleyway crying over the loss of your parents. The, then, me thought to train in you in the art of fighting, a mistake I later found. It got you into a lot of trouble. Anyway, at the time, we were fighting in alliance with a very unique individual named Arthur Lacroise and his wife Karla. He was a detective and she was a retired New York City police officer. He dressed up in an overcoat and black suit while she wore a police officer's uniform, badge and all.

"During the time of when we broke the first curse, and got rid of the vampires in my world, you see, not yours or others, in order to save his wife from a much more evil enchantress in our world, who had sided with the head of the vampires, Dracula, as he liked to call himself for obvious reasons, Teresa made a void. You see Teresa knew about voids but not where they led. Arthur knew about voids, too, as the evil enchantress happened to be his sister."

"His own sister was evil?"

"You play the cards your dealt, Keya," Mark said.

"But how did you guys not get at her sooner if she was the sister of one of your own?"

"Arthur was hard to change to our side. He wasn't really a bad guy to us. He was just doing his job as a cop, investigating on us and all that. When he found that we were doing something good, fighting against the vampires and not just upsetting things as newspapers and political groups liked to advertise, he joined our cause. Well, there was that and his sister had somehow had his wife enchanted by a trance or a spell. The deal was that Arthur was to retrieve a book that would have prevented me from breaking the curse and thus undoing the reality of our world, and by that same token, destroying it. The love story here being that I was to save a marriage by saving Arthur's wife and the world at the same time. Me and Teresa arrived at Dracula's castle too late. Arthur and his sister were already fighting it out. He had some kind of orb that prevented her from hurting him with her magic and she was pouring fourth magic from the ground, making things come to life to attack him, not that she had to, vampires were surrounding him from all sides.

This was a fight that was had in the gates of a big castle. When we arrived, we blew up the gates, causing vampires to scatter through the gardens and hide underneath the shadow of violet flowers and other weird vines that had sprouted in the place. It was definitely a place of evil. In order to save his wife, who Arthur's sister had underneath her blade flying eight feet above the ground, Teresa decided to create a void and let it slip over Karla. Well, what happened then, was a tragedy.

You showed up and took your shot, killing the witch."

"That doesn't sound like a tragedy."

"Your shot went through her body, striking Karla dead as she disappeared into the void. Arthur saw this and bowed revenge. Little did we know that he was a dimensional traveler. He killed you in my dimension, creating a side ways void that split your body down the middle, the void absorbing you from the belly up but the rest of you remaining in my earth, a horrible death. I could not have been more upset by what happened. For days, you could not get me to fess up to what happened. I'd erased it from my mind. Arthur escaped to another dimension, a fact we later learned from books and reading but by then it was too late, Arthur had gone from one dimension to another, killing your parents. He didn't want to kill you in just one earth, you see. And killing your parents? He wanted you to suffer first."

"Is that why my parents in all dimensions are dead?"

"I'm sorry," Mark said, "It's all my fault."

"According to you, it's all my fault," Keya said.

"Your fault?" Mark asked, blinking, "Please, don't." He looked sad and shaken.

She touched his hand, "Does it help you to think it was your fault?"

"I said don't!"

Keya fell back a little. It was weird to talk to him. Still, he hadn't told her how he had gotten into this dimension, this weird wonderful earth with chocolate everywhere. She stepped away, afraid. She'd talk to him when he was calm. As Keya walked away she thought she heard him whimpering and, at last, as though by magic he vanished.

In his mind, Billy saw Meryl coming over to his house and them playing a game of Tower. Tower was a game invented by Phillips and Co. The initial premise of Tower was that you didn't let the Tower fall, while taking it apart piece by piece. These pieces were of course triangles, squares and large blocks that made up the Tower, all metallic and the slightest bit magnetic, so that it was a challenge to remove them. His dad had bought him the game back when it came out and when it was very expensive but Billy had never had anyone to play with. Since his mom and dad had gotten butlers and maids most recently, he tried to catch them being lazy, so he could play a game of Tower with them. They were, unfortunately, quite good at what they did and always kept busy by his mother hanging some frame or moving some desk around. Billy's living room had much more walking space now. Most of the trophy cases had been moved to a room in the backyard built specifically for the purposes of keeping the treasures stored. What had prompted the move, Billy wondered?

When he got home, his father almost shoved him back out with a finger. He pointed at him disapprovingly his shirt sleeves up to his elbows as though he had been working hard, "So, explain to me why I'm looking at you right now, son."

"Uh," Billy said, not knowing where to begin. He hadn't counted on explaining his lack of work to his father.

"And a book to read? Is that your good bye gift? Did you get fired?"
Billy had almost forgotten about the book, his answers to the many questions regarding the voids and dimensions. Well, according to Mark, who Billy had found to be really just a nuisance. Mark was like a mixture of evil and helpful in the same person. He wanted to thank him for the book but also punch him for being so rude. He wouldn’t treat Simon that way, that was for sure. Billy would make sure of that. As for the bullies this Monday, he already made his decision.

“No,” Billy said in a hurry, “They just didn’t have as much work today.”

“Oh, really? And what’s your afternoon plan, then?”

“I was thinking of calling Meryl,” Billy said, truthfully. He was less scared of his father now that he was being given a decent allowance and a lunch.

“Good,” his father said, “But you can’t come in the house now. Your mother would kill us both. Here, ten dollars, take her to the movies or something.”

His father gave him more money to take Meryl out? Who was this strange person, now holding the door open to his house?

“Robert!” His mother called.

“Jane, wait, it’s Billy--what are you doing to that wall?--No, no Jane, it goes on the right--Go, boy, go before she engulfs you in the madness!”

Billy laughed and ran out of the gate of his house, taking his father’s warning seriously. Who did a bully run away from? Other more female bullies.

At the end of the block, the light across the sky started to grow dim. Or was it his imagination? In any case, it stopped him abruptly and a car zoomed by in front of him. A black BMW, he noticed. It had happened so quickly that it almost put Billy out of his stupor. Billy was genuinely happy and excited to see Meryl. Sure, they had argued but this was good news. He finally had more than a few hours at school to spend with her. Usually, they would go to lunch together, the whole time Simon eyeing her like she was an evil demon, and chat. Meryl was uniquely kind to Simon, even calming his stare from time to time. Billy didn’t know if that surprised Simon or not. He surely was better company when Meryl wasn’t around, smiling and joking all the time. Billy had to stand for it but Monday, things would change, for better or worse. Yet, first, the movies.

He looked both ways before crossing and noticed that down C street Simon was coming out of his house. Cal was walking near his house and he had an arm around--No.

Billy is a fish! Billy is a fish! The crowd of fourth graders chanted around him. He looked at them, as he lay on the floor, face up. In the next few seconds, his stomach began to burn from the kicks. Mean tall kids, kids taller than him, Cal among them were kicking him as he was down. Meryl was among the faces. She chanted, too, just as eagerly. He couldn’t breath.

“Can’t I have a cookie like the others?” Billy had asked Ms. Green, the teacher, a round woman with distinctive glasses and the odor of cabbage rising from her sweater. He had been put in a corner for reading too loudly in class. For three days they’d been taunting him with their cookies. Billy for one reason or the other had always gone to the corner. The first two days had not been his fault, Cal Richmond, had stuffed a frog down his pants. And it had croaked, revealing the trick, but too late. Ms. Green blamed him, although he rebuked the call. He knew it was cookie day. His father still was mad at his C average, so no lunch and no allowance. Here he was a chubby kid, starving with the promise of cookies ruined by a bully. The second day, Cal had put the wrong words in his book. In his daze from lack of sweets, he had read out loud “Columbus wrecked the freaking voyage” and that kind of language wasn’t to be tolerated. Billy, then, put out a hand for his cookie but he had gotten a ruler, pointing straight at the corner, where he had to go stand yet again.

The class had laughed at this.

When he asked Ms. Green for the cookie, again, the class laughed. Billy’s stomach growled but much worse was the disappointment of expectation. He had expected a cookie on the third and final day of the extended cookie day but no, none came. “We’re out,” Ms. Green lied, taking another cookie from her purse and biting into it.

At this, the class laughed.

“Now get back to your corner.”

At this, the class laughed.

On his way back, Cal tripped him and Ms. Green saw it, but she let him fall onto the fish tank of the class, his head ending up inside it. Next, Cal said loudly, “Billy is a fish.”

At this, the class laughed.

During lunchtime, Billy confronted Cal. “You tripped me,” he said.

Cal Richmond being a much taller fellow and having more muscles rose to his side with Meryl not so far away giving him a look, batting her lashes, “What’s it to you, fatboy. Didn’t your daddy teach you how to walk?”

Billy eyed him silently, his fists bunching up.

Cal punched him first, in the gut. Winded, Billy fell to his knees. More tall boys came, Roy Richardson, Allen Granden, James, Romano, Loius and watched him on the ground. Then, they began to kick him and chant, “Billy is a fish! Billy is a fish!”

He eyed them now, a crowd chanting, making fun but not Simon. Simon was at the front but his eyes were fiery lightning. He was upset for some reason. Billy didn’t remember Simon being upset before. He’d certainly been kind enough to hand over his lunch to Billy without Billy needing to punch or having to ask. Why was he so nice? His enemy was on the ground being pounded.

All over a freaking cookie, Billy thought.

The pain was great and it was taking over his thoughts, all thought. One got him on the knee and he growled.

At this the crowd grimaced. Then, he grabbed Cal’s foot and the crowd booed him but there was nothing they could do. Gravity was in play now. He fell on his friends that had been kicking him. James and Louis, cowards from the start, ran away. Billy got up. He wasn’t going to be their bait anymore. He was the bully. Billy. Not Cal. Not Ms. Green. Forget her cookies; he was rich, he could buy a cookie.

Cal looked up at him in fear. No longer was he looking down at a bully. What? How does the bully look down on someone not even ugly enough to be his counterpart? Billy smiled at him, blood curled around his lip from the cheap shots. “Now,” Billy said, staring him down, “Who the hell called me a fish?”

And at this, like the wind blowing from the east, everyone scattered at a run.

The block was narrow, now on the hill itself. It was even ground. They still hadn’t seen him but Simon saw them. Simon didn’t look shocked. He kept walking toward the gate of his house. Cal was about to pass his gate with Meryl at his side, Cal’s arm around her. With his fingers he curled her hair and Meryl looked as happy as could be chewing gum. Her braces were gone and she was the old Meryl again, pretty and popular. She was wearing make-up. Who had showed her how to put it on?

Billy watched, his eyes like the ones Simon had when he’d first met him, on fire. A block back, Billy saw on D street were Cal’s friends from before. James and Louis were joking around, kicking at each other. In front of them Roy and Allen. Romano was in the front, leading, a dangerous boy with freckles, and wearing a large black leather jacket. He was Billy’s height and size, except now Billy looked like a more fit version of Romano. And he was more pleasant on the face.

Simon came out of the gate. As if on cue, Meryl shoved him to one side, where Cal was. Cal got a good hold on him, a headlock.

“Let me go, let me go,” Simon complained.

Billy sighed and walked up the block, wanting to be seen now. Meryl was with her back to him, pulling at Simon’s hair. Was this his Meryl? This girl had apologized to his mother. He wasn’t a bully anymore, Billy realized. And everything was happening too fast. He felt like Cal had stolen his cookie again. He could fight him and win but how did that bring Meryl back to him? Would he take her back now, knowing the trick they had played on him? It was Meryl, who he had kissed in the closet of her house because she thought it would be fun. It was Meryl, who had stopped him from fighting Romano over a spilled pudding. He saw the reasoning behind it afterwards but not during. When his pudding had spilled, he’d been the bully, mad and without remorse but that wasn’t him anymore.

Despite his differences with Cal, Billy couldn’t be the bully anymore. He’d made a decision about that, especially when he’d dealt with Mark. Mark had changed his mind or made it up for him. Similar to when he realized that good grades got him an allowance, he now realized that to not fight against the bullies would be an injustice. More importantly, a bully couldn’t fight a bully, so he had made up his mind. He was no longer a bully.

“That looks fun,” Billy said, surprising all three of them, “Mind if I do it to you?”

From the corner of his eye, Billy saw the friends from a block too far running at them.

“Billy,” Meryl said, ducking under Cal’s arm. She took his hand off her, “It’s not like you think.”

“Like I think?” Billy asked, “I thought I was a fish, isn’t that what you were chanting?”

“That was a long time ago, Billy,” Meryl said, her head bowed.

Was she ashamed of something? Good. She should be. Seeing that Cal had still not let go of Simon, Billy stepped up to him and grabbed Billy’s hand and forcefully pulled him out of the headlock. Cal scratched Simon’s cheek as he left. “Oww, oww!” Simon yelled.

Afterward, there were blood marks on his face. “Oh?” Billy asked, “Now you hurt my friends?” Billy went up to him and Cal was still shocked to see him, so he didn’t move. Billy punched him in the gut. Cal went to his knees. “Notice how I don’t kick you while you’re down. Take it as a lesson. You shouldn’t either. I came to call a truce but bullies seem to respond to only one thing!”

“Cal!” Meryl cried, kneeling to protect him, it looked like, “But you are a bully!”

“No,” Simon yelled out, “You will not call him that! You, of all people, he liked you and you treated him like this?”

“Come on, Simon,” Billy said, dragging him away. A tear had started to form on Billy’s face. To think, he’d been wanting to spend time with Meryl and she had betrayed him. He felt as if his heart were about to burst. That evil Meryl that Simon had known about all along. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked him, as they walked side by side. Part of him burned with anger but he had to put it aside for now.

“It would have hurt you,” Simon said, “And that’s not helping. We promised to help each other no matter what.”

“What are you doing walking out of your house at this time? Do you see that--oh, shoot, they’re coming after us. Run, Run!”
Billy and Simon ran through the neighborhood, down hill toward the school, just because it was easier to run downhill. The six of them gave chase. Meryl ran but she fell back a lot. Was any part of her real? Still addicted to Cal, as when he’d first saw her back in fourth grade. Billy had thought she’d changed.

It was inevitable that they catch up to them but Billy was hoping for luck or to see a police officer drive by. Nothing. The only thing that happened was that time, now his enemy, stripped the sun from the sky. They were in a semi-darkness, the background of the neighborhood shaded in a dark orange color. Simon was beginning to slow down, his smaller feet having to run twice as fast just to keep up. Billy was a fellow who wasn't used to running, so he was out of breath quickly.

At the bottom of the hill, they slowed down. They came onto the school gates. They crossed the street and Billy leaned against them, breathing hard. He went down on his back, sitting. "Guess they got us," Billy said, "You ever get a black eye?"

"A black eye?" Simon asked, "You think that's all they want to do to us?"
Billy didn't really know what they would do to him but he couldn't run anymore. Also, he realized, that to not be the bully he had to stop fighting like one. Meryl may have been wrong to betray him but she had been right to call him a bully. He had, after all, taken advantage of Cal's weakness. At the corner where the intersection dead-ended at the school and the streets broke off in two directions, one toward the park and the other toward down town, the five boys stopped.

Romano's leather jacket was the first thing Billy saw from across the street. He was standing by the ice-cream shop. On the other side of the street, where Willy liked to sit and help kids cross, James and Louis cracked a smile. They were surrounding them, so they wouldn't escape. Billy and Simon sat in front of the gates, eyeing them nervously. "You got some kind of plan, right?"

"I think I can wing it," Billy said to him.

"And please tell me that translates to plan in bully talk," Simon said, looking from one side to the next.

Roy and Allen appeared behind Romano, who was just standing by the ice-cream shop, pounding his fist. Roy, on the other hand, was walking away from them. He was going home. Allen chased him and tried to talk him out of it but Roy waved a hand in front of his face with a frown and walked off. What had that been about? Roy had been among those chanting against Billy in the fourth grade. Billy watched them with sincere interest. It was almost more baffling than Meryl's betrayal.

Billy sighed, "Under the circumstances, I'm trying to remain rational and calm."

"How about getting angry and fighty like we need you to be," Simon said, watching Louis and James cross the street. They definitely looked eager. James had a smile on his face and Louis couldn't stop from laughing at James's side.

"Hey, Billy," James said, "You lost?"

Billy looked at the gates of the school. "Just thought about getting some afternoon lessons."

Just then, Romano appeared on the other side of them. Billy and Simon got up, now less winded. "Oh," Romano said, "We'll be doing some teaching all right."

"Fellas, fellas," Simon said, quickly, "Can't we learn to talk our way out of situations like these? Perhaps, you'll accept a bribe of some sort. Okay, okay, Billy's girl is yours, if you let us go."

Louis laughed but stopped himself as Cal, a foot taller than mostly all of them except Billy and Romano, pushed James aside and approached. Then, Meryl, dressed in a purple skirt and purple top without her braces and her lips painted red, crossed the street. She didn't look as happy as when she'd been holding Cal's hand. Cal, on the other hand, was grinning.

"You guys ran from us," Cal said, "Normally, I would stand that for that. You can get away with a black eye or a bloody lip for something like that, you know." Louis and James laughed at this. Allen showed up right behind Romano and turned his back on them. He was the look out.

Billy looked stricken. He didn't want to see Simon get beat up. "Cal, look, I'm sorry for--?"

Cal raised a hand to shut him up. "Really? You're sorry. Let me think on it. Was it for trying to steal my girlfriend? Breaking my hand, perhaps? Or for that little display of whatever back there? Huh, which is it, fatboy?"

"For all three," Billy said, "But Simon has nothing to do with it."

"Who?"

"Simon," Billy said, pointing at the now trembling Simon.

"The kid? I had completely forgot about that one. Yea, sure, he can go."

Simon began to walk away but then Cal pushed him against the gates roughly. Simon hit the gate back first and fell on the ground.

"Simon!" Billy went to Simon's side.

"Ow, ow," Simon said, "I'm good, I'm good, just a little bruise. It's going to hurt like heck in the morning." Simon leaned against the gate in pain. He had a bruise on the side of his stomach where he'd hit the gate.

"Sorry," Cal said, "That was just, what did you say to me in the ice-cream shop? A mistake?"

Meryl had stood back watching the exchange and she now had both her hands on her face. "Cal, what are you doing?"

"Shut-it, Meryl. Go home."

"What are you going to do?" Meryl asked, looking concerned.

"What do you care? You just used the fat one for your own purposes, didn't you? You'll come to find that your father has moved the trophy case in your house because of a missing rookie card. It's what paid for my girl's outfit, isn't it, baby?"

Meryl cleared her throat. "I, it was a mistake, Billy. I didn't mean--?"

"Not necessary," Cal said, interrupting her, "Why do you need to explain anything to this fish? Remember, I got him good that time. He's not even a proper bully, defending wimps like that. Is he even one of us, why do we put up with it?"

"You follow the bully code, don't you?" Romano asked Cal. For a moment, they exchanged glances.

"He doesn't consider himself one of us, anymore. He said he doesn't kick people while they're down and that bullies only respond to one thing."

"I guess he's fair game now, then," Romano said, smiling.

Romano and Cal approached him, as he knelt down beside Simon. Billy's huge self could think of nothing else but to cover Simon. Bunched up in a corner, a darkness engulfed them both. Billy was shadowed by Cal, Louis, James and Romano, as they approached. Unfortunately, bullies did kick people while they were down. The blows came from all sides. First, the belly shots, which felt like burning coals running through his belly. One hit him so hard, it caused a tear to involuntarily come to his eye. Another shot got him on the tip of the elbow, as he moved his hand over Simon's body. "Stay calm," Billy whispered at Simon, who had no choice but to watch Billy get pounded on. Billy was with his back to them, covering Simon's body with his own.

Some voice yelled, "Stop! Stop it, Cal! You'll hurt them really bad that way! Don't! What are you doing!"
The boys laughed.

A boot caught Billy's ear and he stumbled aside, away from Simon. Then, they tried to kick at Simon, who was leaning against the gate already hurt from Cal's "accident." The pain took a few seconds to subside but it stunned him long enough for a shoe to kick Simon in the stomach. Simon cried. "Ughhmm, uggmm, please, please," the tears welled up in his eyes. It was more horrible to watch his friend in pain than to be hit by the shoes.

What could Billy do to stop them? He had no weapons and all his good friends worked at a library. What would Francine do? Make these bullies tea?

Billy covered him again but this time, as another boot tried to kick him in the face, he caught the foot, and got up quickly, pushing the boot aside. "Aaaaaah!" He yelled. There were tears and anger in his eyes. The bullies broke their formation and Billy pushed Cal aside. "Enough!" He told Cal, who wanted to keep kicking at him. Billy let himself be kicked two more times, both kicks only by Cal, who was the only one still resisting him. Billy took the hits, on to his shin and one to his thigh, as he leaned down to pick up Simon, who lay whimpering on the ground. Then, Billy touched Cal on the shoulder and more calmly told him, "Enough."

"What's enough, huh?" Cal asked Billy, "That because of my broken arm I couldn't be the captain of the soccer team this year? That because of my broken arm I was made fun of, instead of being respected at school?"

"And who's fault is that?" Billy asked him back, his eyes still flaring, and he walked away limping now because that last kick had hurt him badly.

Cal and his friends walked behind him slowly, chasing after them at a walk.

"You think this is over?" Cal asked, no remorse showing in his face yet clearly Simon was hurt and crying.

"Stop it, stop it," Came the hoarse voice of Meryl, who was down on her knees on the other block being restricted by Allen. So much for their lookout.

Billy put Simon down. "Can you walk?"

Simon nodded at him and wiped away his tears with his sleeves. Billy didn't want to put the kid down but if they had to run, they would. At least they weren't surrounded anymore. Still, the band of bullies behind them didn't seem to be fading away. Instead, they were laughing.

"So, fish," Cal said, "I can expect you here for another beating tomorrow?"

Billy looked back at him. He said nothing to him. He had hurt him and his friends, and stolen a girl he'd cared about, yet Billy didn't see the reasoning. Even if his arm had been broken, Cal had healed. Billy didn't know if this was Cal's plan all along, to get him and Simon together for a session of beat downs but he was definitely not ready for a second one. His ear still throbbed from the pain and his stomach still burned at the sides. None of them had kicked his back, thankfully. One or two had got in kicks to the thighs but these were thankfully covered by the baseballs pads underneath which he'd had expected to have worn at work but work had not happened.

"Take her home," Cal ordered Allen.

"Fish, I'm talking to you. We're not done yet!"

"We're done," Billy said, looking back at him.

In his mind, the pain came back yet this time, he could do something about it. A large white light appeared in the darkness above his head. And there he thought he could grab a hold of the stars. He stretched out his hand.

Suddenly, a void appeared like the one that spat out books but this was round and the size of Billy's body if not bigger. It appeared right in front of them. Simon walked into it by accident, so Billy had to go after him.

They were gone. The void closed as soon as Billy stepped into it.

Meryl, who was being led home by Allen, turned to look back and Billy and Simon had vanished. She ran at Cal, who looked both shocked and upset. Meryl punched him on the face so hard, he took two steps back, "What have you done to them! What have you done!"

The darkness faded away like the smell of summer. Here, it was chilly but not raining. Simon was so cold, he shivered but he looked less shaken up by the fight. Romano had kicked him on the belly once and head twice. He had a bloody nose but that was the extent of his injuries. Billy on the other hand had a swollen lip and a bleeding ear.

The streets were paved, clean and proper. A sign ahead of them directed them with hands, pointing out Wizard's Way with the right hand and Gambler's Alley with the other hand. Where the hell were they? The roads even had green neon lights on the edges of the sidewalk, tiny and spaced out about an inch from each other. Simon stared at the streets, as he sat. "What just happened?" Simon asked him.

Billy had let go of Simon's hand. He'd been more than worried about him but now Billy just looked up at the sky. It was dark and he could see stars, despite the street lamps and neon colors of the street. The moon shone like it was directly in front of him, close enough to touch. "Wow," Billy said, "There's stars up there glowing different colors."

"A trick of reflection," Simon said, "When the Earth is closer to certain moons or further away from them, things become clearer as they truly are. Not all stars are white, you see."

"How do you even know this?"

"It's in the Space Dreg instruction manual, Billy."
"Really?"
They got up and began to walk down the street. It was no longer slanted or curved, but a straight road with houses on either side of the streets. They had somehow ended up in the midst of a neighborhood with houses everywhere they looked. These had yellow bright rooftops with matching colors underneath. Dark blue and yellow houses, black and yellow houses. All the houses had dark colors and yellow to them. "Wow, it’s all yellow."

"Are we in Kansas?" Billy asked.

"Not funny," Simon said, adjusting his glasses. One of the lenses was cracked, so the effect was lost.

"You okay?"

"Yea," Simon said, wiping his dried blood with a sleeve, "How did you do that by the way?"

"I have no idea," Billy said, "But there was like a light that only I could see. Then, I reached out for this weird chart of stars that appeared and the purple void appeared."

"Sorry I went through," Simon said, sadly. They came upon the end of the block. Billy stopped to look both ways. As if on cue, a police siren stopped them both. Billy turned to look at it as it drove in front of them. The siren didn't wail. It just did two beeps and a man in a black uniform and red badge got out. He didn't have a belt like regular police officers but he did walk with command. "You two, what are you doing lingering out here in the night?"

"Well," Billy said, "We just came from--?"

"You're a traveler," the police officer said. He tapped his shoulder with a hand. "We got a zero complex situation here. Come with me, then."

Billy looked at Simon who just shrugged. "It's better than getting beat up by bullies."

He put a hand in front of Simon. "Not you. The intelligence team will come for you."

"He's my friend," Billy said, stopping in front of the door.

"Don't worry. You'll see him again. We never travel alone, anymore."

"We?"

"Come on, get in. We don't have all day. It's dangerous here now."

A van pulled up behind the car. It was yellow and black like some of the houses. It honked twice.

"Well?" the policeman asked of Simon. "Go. They're talking to you."

Simon hurried to the van.

Billy got in the car and looked behind him, as the van backed away and suddenly vanished.

"What just happened?"

"They're scientists," the policeman said, "It's better not to ask questions with them."

"One of those scientist is my friend," Billy said.

"You came here, right? To the master earth and you don't wish to give up your rights as a traveler?"

"I don't even know what that means," Billy said, "I'm fourteen. Isn't all this business with the science and junk left to the grown-ups."
"You look grown-up enough," he said, now acquiring sunglasses from a glove compartment. Billy had sat in the back seat. There wasn't anyone else in the vehicle, just the smell of oranges. "Why does it smell that way?"

"It confuses the enemy," the policeman said.

"The enemy?"
"Vampires or the poisoned ones, depending on your dimension. I'm sure you've heard of them."

"Yea," Billy said, smiling, "The vampires, anyway."
"What is it that amuses you?"
"They're fantasy."

"What's fantasy?"

"Like books. They're not real, you know."

"As real as I've ever seen any," said the man. "So, in your earth you say they've heard of the vampires but they're only in books?"
"Yea," Billy said.

"Your books live?"

"Nooo! What? No. I mean you can read about them but they're not real."

The car stopped, its tires screeching.

"You say you come from an earth without vampires?"

Billy shrugged, "Why is this important?"

The man tapped his shoulder again, "I was wrong. This is a unique situation I got right here, master. Traveler has no record of vampires existing in his world."

He listened to his ear for a second, "Ahem, Ahem. Okay, I shall ask."

The car continued to move.

They passed streets so fast, Billy couldn't really see them. It was like traveling in a blur or in a whirlwind.

The driver heaved a sigh. "I'm supposed to ask if you've been drugged in some way."

"No," Billy said, "Who are you talking to?"

"The masters. You'll meet them when we get there. There's always an investigation with the new travelers. We had one years ago, looked like you about your age. He never claimed not to have vampires in his earth, just that he had to get back. He was a hard one to train in the arts of dimension hopping, although he seemed to have a handle on hand-to-hand combat."

"Hand-to-hand combat? Am I going to go through that?"

"After the trial, yes."

"What's the trial?"

"The questioning. All travelers go through it. Don't worry yourself. It never lasts very long. Although in your case, it might. Not hearing about vampires is quite rare for a traveler. What kind of earth hasn't heard about real vampires?"

"A sane one?" Billy asked, thinking the whole situation was pretty crazy. Not minutes ago, he'd been defending Simon from bullies and now here he was going to trial for doing something he didn't understand.

The driver laughed.

"The other you was humorous as well."

Keya looked really closely at the pages. Were they changing? Her copy of Francine's book had been taken by Mark during one of his fits. He was getting more irritable lately, even after Keya made him tea with honey. The book was replaces with Tests in Time by Mark Piersley. It was no wonder Francine didn't want to give it to her. It was hard to read. The words seemed to move from one side of the page to the next, as if trying to trick the eyes. Keya knew what they said, though, not like words could hide from her. Ever since she'd learned to read, all those words having hid from her during her early years now popped out at her. They were tricky, especially those words with "R" in them. And the "w" and the "th". Francine still got made at her for mispronouncing width and with.

Tests in Time was a book that, ironically, had not tested her patience. It was a love story. The title had nothing whatsoever to do with the book. In this page, she read about Mark and Wendy, two members of opposing families that couldn't be together because their families were at war. She knew that a book similar to this had been taught to her at the palace but the words had been rhymed and all in a spectacular fashion. She had had no part in the reading of it, though. Mark's recollection of Wendy was more simple. He said things like "blue eyes" and "blonde hair". Basically, words that Keya had come to know right after escaping her arranged marriage.

Keya smiled at the book. These wonderful things had taught her all about arranged marriages and how extremely common they were in the modern day India. Not in her dimension but in this one. And, she even found, a book on dimensions, which described a lot of dimensions and how they lived. It was curious to see that each of these were at war with either vampires or "poisoned ones." Mark had mentioned these. Keya had seen the work of vampires herself.
Still, there was no mention of vampires in her new book. Wendy, Wendy, Wendy, that's all she read. Mark wrote in a weird way:

Wendy corrects herself. As we fight the vampires at the castle, she keeps evading me. Is she captured? Why is Wendy making fun of me so much? I guess she's not. Messages delivered by Leroy and Ruben say she has been captured. How do you capture Wendy? Is it even possible? I think she's making fun of me. Why would she capture herself, knowing of the danger, knowing that the queen Lacroise herself is in this castle. She's another problem, bigger than Wendy. No. Not bigger than Wendy, just more evil. Evil has a way of coming together in the end but Wendy, she may never like me.

Why is it I can't touch her without the pain? Is this what the first curse is all about, pain, pain, pain. Even when I get near her, this sickness enchants my mind. Sometimes, I'm glad she's not close to me but then I remember her eyes and the way she yells at people just so. Not love. That comes later. Definitely not love. Where is Wendy?

To some degree, the book was cryptic. Twice, Mark had mentioned Wendy's absence. He was certainly worried about her and if that isn't love, then what is? Keya preferred to guess that it was something mysterious. She certainly didn't have any notions about it, not now anyway. Francine said that the mystery of the book was not in the title but in reading it. Keya could read it just fine but there certainly wasn't any mystery to be solved in it. It was quite clear that it was simply a journal about Mark's relationship with Wendy. He'd mention the vampires from time to time and people she didn't know or were probably fictional but never did he stray away from the idea of Wendy. Her name came up more often than Teresa's and Francine had made a connection about how often Teresa's name came up on these books that the dimensional portal had spat out. After some time, Francine had told her about the void and what Billy was really doing in the library.

Billy was someone Keya often thought about. Here he was, a bulky fellow but with a kindness in the eyes, brown eyes, too. He kept looking at her from the corner of his eye but she knew he was looking, that was the point. Yet, how fast he'd left the library. What had scared him off so fast? Was it her? Billy could be Keya's Wendy. No. Keya thought. Billy isn't so evasive. If he had wanted to talk to her about dating, then he probably would have been up front about it, just like he'd been about the character of Mark. Keya knew the meeting had been unfair. Mark was upset at something and had taken it out on Billy, who had in turn been demoralized by Mark. It wasn't right but it could be fixed. Francine had told her that mistakes among people were normal, unless they couldn't be fixed. This one could.

She waited. It was nearing ten already and still he didn't come. She went back to Tests in Time laughing at certain parts here and there. Well, the book certainly was a joy of time but Billy was starting to test her. She didn't know if she could pass.

A large stone pillar stuck on the floor popped into Billy's view when the door of the car opened. A man all in white, like the milkmen of the 1960s, rushed to the side of the car and opened the door. He saluted Billy, even.

Billy looked at him with awe. "Put your hand down, sir," he said.

The man blushed and ran off quickly. Billy's eyes chased him. He was running toward a sea of grass. Nothing but grass was in front of them, separated in huge sixty by sixty square rectangles. In between these were walkways, so that people could walk in between the grass. At the onset the pillar, blue and crystal, shone with an almost magical quality. It was a square pillar that was at least a hundred feet up like a tall building but only about two square feet long. Billy wondered how it stayed up. "What is that?"

"It's the equivalent to every dimension in existence. The coordinates of each dimension are written in each of the triangles. If you look closely, you'll see that square tiles make up the entirety of this tower. Each square holds two coordinates, as it should be obvious that two triangles make a square."

"There must be thousands of them," Billy said.

"Nine-million to be exact."

"Nine-million?" Billy asked, "But this tower doesn't look like it has nine-million thingies."

"Oh, no, us travelers can't remember all those coordinates. There's more than one of these pillars around the courtyard. This one stands here because these dimensions are harmless or, as we call them, with minimal infestations of the poisoned ones. They've all heard of vampires, though. It still is a measure of surprise to me that you haven't. Are you sure no one found vampires on your earth? Even remotely?"

"Not that I've heard of," Billy said. "But then, I didn't get out much."

"No matter. The council of elders will sort it out during the questioning."
The officer waved at his car where he'd parked it on the curve and it vanished.

"Don't ask," he said, "It's a thing we can do but you need to be taught."

Billy sighed. Well, if he could open a dimension at will, he could guess where the car was. "You sent it to another dimension."

The man stopped walking along the stone path witch grass on all sides. Even the area was a measure of big grass squares. "Good observation," he said. "Perhaps you already know more than you let on. Come on then, let's hurry at a brisk jog."

"Jog?"

"Call it part of your training," the officer said, pausing at his last word to inspect him up and down. Billy guessed that it was another joke at his weight. It could be a joke directed at his age but he doubted that much. He said that Billy would go directly to training. Did they have that kind of time? Billy had a problem with how to get back to his own time. What was he going to do?

They began to jog forward. Ahead, Billy saw multiple buildings, all square-shaped but some of the buildings were surrounded by big towers. A bridge was above them fifty feet in the air. It was an overhead walkway that shadowed them. How did the grass even grow without the sunlight? It was yet another mystery of this earth Billy had to get used to. As they walked underneath the bridge he saw the walls on either side of them that was connected to it. Big stone walls, about twelve feet in the air that were curved downward from where the wall was in a / shape and then straightened out at a height of about ten feet until the end of the walkway where a set of stairs met them. The stairs led to the buildings and towers all white and shiny in the darkness. It was so chilly that Billy was glad to jog, even if he had just been through enough running for a lifetime. Billy checked his ear. It still hurt but not that much.

Another problem was Simon. Where had they taken him? The officer had said not to worry and this seemed like a good idea, considering the alternative had been dealing with a gang of bullies set out on exacting years of revenge on both of them.

The building where they stopped had a five foot door shaped like an arc. Guards dressed in all white and with white hats like the milkman that opened door stood on either side of the arc. These had on black utility belts and had a foot-long stick in their hands. They pointed these up and a light came out of the ends as they approached. "Don't blind me, Greg!"

"Sorry, sir," the guard said to the officer.

"James," the man said, "My name is James."

James hurried into the arc still jogging. They hadn't even slowed down at the stairs which was tricky for Billy. He almost tripped. The guards put down their sticks and the lights were gone. Inside, the hallway was lit but just barely. The walls were colored beige and the doors a sickly-looking dark-brown that almost made them look like they were still part of the tree. The doors had lines across them, check off with a black X. Some didn't have the X on them. They had, instead, a check mark or an O. These doors were on either side of the hall way spaced about two or three inches apart and the hallway extended fifty yards ahead.

At the end of the hallway was another arc with more guards. These were so tightly enclosed that they stood one in front of the other or else no one would be able to pass through the arch without having to shove each other aside. The hallway broke after this arch into a large room.

When they passed all the doors, they entered a room sort-of like a courtroom but with a large number of stadium like seats on the walls themselves. They looked like big couches popping out of the walls. They were all at the termination of the jog. A wooden wall about three feet high stopped the jog. James came up in front of the wall and stopped short.

On either side of the aisle were people seated in benches, a lot of people in black, dressed almost exactly like James, except some had pins on their arms. Men and women but some were Billy's age. None looked like Billy, meaning that they were all a little too skinny for Billy's tastes. Billy watched them uneasily. So many people had showed up at this time of the night for a trial?

Of a sudden, all the couches on the walls, sixteen from what Billy had counted, had people on them. These were older fellows with red baseball caps and wearing buttoned shirts and blue jeans like cowboys on television did. This all didn't add up. The council was full of country people who happened to like couches?

The couches were so high up that the council people could look down on everyone easily.

"If it pleases, the council, I present the unknown traveler, Billy."

One of the men spoke in a strange accent but Billy couldn't tell which one. They were all looking down at him.

Billy looked to the side of him where a row of kids that were just about his age were smiling at him. They were happy to be here.

"Another? Well, we'll have to send this one back. It doesn't look like we can do much to train him."

"With all due respect, sire, this one here claims there are no vampires in his world."

"Are you daft? Obviously, the boy is scared. He knows the value of good traveler training. However, you know the consequences of the worlds merging and the dimensional breaks that this is causing. To maintain stability, we have to send those back who we deem will not pass the tests."

"But, sire, we are going to send him back where? Every dimension that we know of has vampires in it."

"We'll find out his sign. Take him to the trained, James. And pick up the little fellow along the way. He is much too inept to be trained as well."

"We're sending both of them back, sire?" James asked, as though this was the most unfair thing in the world.

"Why do you question the council, James? Look, the kid obviously belongs to an earth with vampires. If he says he's not heard of them, then that is ridiculous. We can not tolerate such a misuse of justice. It is yet another reason why he can NOT be trained here. The boy lacks integrity. I sensed it the moment he walked in with his confused demeanor and lying glare."

"Very well," James said, staring meanly up at the judges, "I respect the council's decision. However, I employ a service in return."

"Do you now, and how do you propose the council will respond to a bribe?"

"Then let it respond to a threat," James said.

The crowd now "ooohed" in response.

"If I do not get my proposed service, then I will seek the judgment of a seeker and the lineation may take so long that Billy here may be done with his training or at the onset of taking and, as you say, failing the tests. Seekers are known for their patience in determining the nature of their travelers."
"We will hear of your proposal and see to its consideration among the council. Please, speak."

"My wish is that the next boy I come upon with the talent will be accepted for training without question."

The crowd uttered phrases aloud at this. "That's ridiculous!" And "What is that man thinking!"

Some even said, "Forget this man. Let the fat boy come to training. We'll show him a thing or two about what it really means to travel."

Yet the crowd fell to stunned silence at how quickly the council responded.

"Yes, yes, James. Bring your son and he will be trained."
Without warning, a void opened and Billy was dragged into it along with James.

They appeared in the same cold street from where he had come.

"Are you sure there weren't any vampires in your earth?"

"No," Billy said, "I never seen any or even heard of them until I picked up a book."

"Okay," the man said, kneeling to explain something to him, "Since there's no real time to train you, you should know this much, traveler Billy. The void that you opened at first, it was because of the light. And you can invoke the light as you see fit and reach for those stars. The stars are coordinates like the X check mark and O you saw on those doors. When you move these three stars around, the void will open. Below the stars are numbers, maybe you seen them, maybe you didn't. Advanced travelers do not see the numbers, Billy. Pay attention because this next is important and we don't have much time. The councils orders are obeyed immediately upon the closing of the decisions. Look at the stars, that's how you're able to travel. Only by night or if you can see stars during the day. In some earths, you can. There's no time for questions, just listen. In case these travelers do not send you to your exact earth, you may open a portal to travel away from it, should you find that you want to leave. I give you this choice, Billy. Make sure you want to leave an earth before you do it because traveling is forbidden by the council outside of your own dimension. No, no don't ask. It's like teleporting but what you're doing is moving into your own dimension at a different location, it has to do with the light and how it's opened. In order to read your coordinates, you have to think them up, like X2, O3, check mark 2, these are the coordinates to this place, very easy, probably why you ended up here the first time. Your earth may have complicated coordinates. In particular because no one's heard of it. All earths have vampires. Remember that. And, that's it."

Another void opened and they entered into a large room with a single man at the front. There was a bubble shaped sphere rotating next to him. The man had blue gloves on. He waved them to come forward. Then, Simon appeared almost stumbling. Simon looked back at the darkness of nothing in a confused way, shrugged and waved at Billy with a smile.

"Horrible place," Simon said, "The ice-cream is good but you should see their television shows. Craig and the Bee. It's a show about a bee catcher, can you believe that?"

"Where were you?" Billy asked him.

"Waiting room," Simon said, "Then, they said, there was nothing they could do. They were sorry but I was going back to where I came from. Like I had just lost a bet or something. It's the best news I heard all night. It's too freaking cold here, Billy."

"I wish I'd talked to Mark before coming here," Billy said with a sigh.

James interrupted their talk. "Mark?"

The other man echoed him. "Mark?"

His blue-gloved hand went to his chin and he stared at them pensively.

"Yea, a strange man with answers about dimensions," Billy said, "But he was really mean to me."

James and the blue-gloved man exchanged a look.

"Step into the globe while we talk."

Billy and Simon stepped into the sphere. Rings appeared around it and they began to spin slowly.

"You think they're talking about Mark Piersley?"

"Who else?"

"And the council wants to send them back?"

"Appears so."

James was the man with the two-word answers.

"Don't you think they should know about this?"

"They made their decision without even questioning him. What do you think they'll say about this?"

"But every traveler that knows Mark Piersley has been great and there hasn't been one in a decade."

"Time changes in the dimensional world," James said, "Maybe tomorrow we'll get another one that knows a Mark Piersley. It's not our concern. The council has made its decision."

"Oh, here comes the coordinates. Hmm. Strange."

"What, what's that?" James asked, distracted.

The blue-gloved man was looking at a digital device on the side of the spinning sphere in which Simon and Billy stood. The rings didn't touch them; they were digitally formed like neon lights but these were pink and red and they glowed. They had spun slower and slower until they stopped. That's when the blue-gloved man had spoken about coordinates. He was staring at the readings.

"There's an extra X here where there should be just one."

"When you look at the light, do you see an extra X star?"

"No," the blue-gloved man said, "But I got their coordinates. It shouldn't take long."

James was writing something down. "Do you mind if I do it?"

"What?"
"I need the practice. There's talk in the office of promotion to ambassador."

"Yea, yea. I'll just oversee it. What are you writing there?"

"Just notes. I never done this sort of thing before, you know."

"You never traveled?"

"No, I mean traveled others out. I'm trying to record what I find."

"Of course. Can never be too careful with traveling. Don't step out of the globe kids. James can do it from here."

James walked forward and looked like any normal person to Billy. Yet he had an extraordinary gift to teleport wherever he wanted. Billy was impressed by this. "Did you want to leave?" Simon asked.

"Oh, yea," Billy said, "I'm mostly interested in finding out if Meryl will apologize to me."

"Yea," Simon said, "The great mystery of life, if a girl that never liked you will suddenly fall in love you, yay."

"Shut-up, Simon."

"Ooops!" James said, stumbling onto Billy. A paper fell out of his hands but he made it vanish into a void. And he was careful not to let the blue-gloved man see it for some reason.

"Sorry," James said, "Just nervous."

"Take your time, James," the blue-gloved man said, "And remember the coordinates. Usually, that's the most important thing."

James took a step back and he said to Billy, "Good luck, traveler. Remember what I told you."

Suddenly, they were gone.

In the next instant, all Billy heard was the sound of dimension skipping. It was like a small ing-ing-ing sound. Billy had heard it the first time he'd traveled but he doubted that Simon could. Then, they were back on the sidewalk, where they had fought the bullies. It was day light.

"I'm going home," Simon said.

"Okay," Billy said, "But wait."

Simon stopped walking, as he was in such a hurry to be anywhere but here. "Is it colder?"

"No," Simon said, "In fact, I think it's just about the right weather for this time of year. If anything, it was much too warm for comfort before, if you ask me."

"Anyway," Billy said, "That's not why I told you to wait. James, the man who brought us here said that this might not be our earth."

"What are you saying?"

"Just," Billy said, pausing to look at his side thinking someone was watching them, "If you notice anything strange, meet me at the library, okay?"

"When?"

"Let's meet every night," Billy said, "And if this isn't our earth, well, I don't want to be in it. I don't care about this rip in the dimensions stuff that James was talking about. I want to go back where I was. Those bullies can't get away with what they were doing to people back home."

"You were planning on fighting them back?"

"Well," Billy said, "At first, I want to think about it, you know. They're still people. We can't hurt them like they hurt us."

"Because we're not bullies?"

"Also," Billy said, smiling, "Because we don't have the numbers."

Simon laughed at this. Billy noticed something about him then. "You have new glasses. They look...are they sunglasses?"
"The ner-scientists in the other dimension said they would look cool to you but like any old pair of glasses to me," Simon said, shaking his head, "I was almost starting to believe it wasn't working until you said something."

"Those are nice," Billy said. "You put yourself in a gray suit and you'll look almost cool enough to hang out with."

"Shut-up, Billy," Simon said, laughing, "I'll see you at the library. I have to be home now or my mom...oh, well, I'll come up with something."

Crap! Simon was right. What was Billy going to tell his parents? As Simon left, Billy thought he saw the sign "C" street but pointing in a different direction. It was probably just his imagination playing tricks on him. It had probably always pointed in that direction.

As he walked up hill toward his home, he saw a For Sale sign on a big blue house that had always looked brown to him. It still looked brown. And it was no wonder it was for sale. It was dirty and the weeds and grass had grown to an uncomfortable height. He passed C street and watched Simon walk up through his lawn into his house. A lady with an apron answered the door, it looked like and she wasn't happy. Billy sighed. No sense in delaying it.

Then, he got closer to Cal's house but passed it without a second thought. He saw Meryl up the street on the other side of the block. "Meryl!" Billy yelled at her. She was wearing a blue dress and black flat-top shoes and a bonnet. Her hair was in pigtails and she was looking down at a basket in her hands, counting something. Chocolates, it looked like. "Meryl!"

The girl looked up at him and waved shakily but then laughed and ran away from him.

Why did she laugh? Did she find his pain funny? Despite it all, his ear still hurt a little.

The fear of Billy's parents was dulling the pain away. Besides he probably looked a mess to others. With dried blood on his ear, welts on his belly and his shirt ripped in places and dirtied from being thrown about so much. James hadn't said anything about his injuries which was curious to Billy. Maybe, they found a lot of traveler's all beat-up from their adventures. Billy didn't see it as much of an adventure as a situation he got himself in that he could have probably got himself out of. Even the traveling thing was bothersome.

They tell kids to reach for the stars all the time but he never figured that it was a literal thing. They were probably just telling people to seek better futures, which would have been more clear. Well, his dad had said to reach for the stars during one of his more somber lectures. Billy didn't understand it at first but he hoped his dad knew nothing about traveling. Would he, then, come after him dimension through dimension just to punish him? Billy still had a twenty from his last allowance payment.
The things he would do with twenty bucks, if only he had the chance to leave his house and spend it.

In the next moment, three things happened that were very strange to Billy. It made him wonder if he was really in the right dimension. First, the lights went out on the whole block, followed quickly by the lights coming back on. During the day? It was probably just an outage because that happened all the time in California. Second thing was that Cal, Romano and Louis walked right past him, Louis's big nose marking him out as obvious. They all wore black leather jackets, not just Cal. They didn't even give him a nod or a mean glare. Billy walked along the house fences his hand slowly caressing the metal when they turned onto his street and they paid him no attention at all. Cal even said, "So, the homework is to figure out why the vampires appear at night and not during the day."

"It's stupid," Romano said, "We know why they appear at night only."

"Still," Louis said, "We have to do it."

They were talking about vampires. James had said that every dimension had vampires but Billy's own dimension had never heard of them, unless they were in a book. Well, Billy would find a way to figure out the puzzle. They were probably just messing with him. How did they know about vampires, though? Were they travelers? Is that why all of them were wearing black? No. It was probably just a trick. He walked faster after passing them.

The final thing that made him wonder was that his dad was outside his house, sitting on some steps and he waved at him with a smile.

"Ah," He said, "You're back. Good. Let's get started on that game of catch, no?"

Had his dad gone crazy? He never wanted to play any game with Billy. Billy passed into his house and then was relieved to find that the walls were a different color. The remodeling had happened as planned. "Yea," his dad said, as they went past the living room, holding gloves in his hand, "She really did a number in here."

There were chairs and a table, black and square. It was too small to eat on. Billy stared at it with some interest. In the kitchen the tables had been replaced by counters and stools like a bar. It was an interesting choice.

"Hmm," his dad said, "We never get to eat together anymore, ey?"

They reached the backyard and Billy felt his heart pound, as they played catch. He really didn't want to leave this earth, his home. Did he have a choice? James had said that leaving would cause a rip in dimensions. What did he mean by that? Billy said he didn't care but he cared a little.

Billy refused to speak. He was scared that his voice might be different. "You're grounded," his dad said, "Two months, no allowance. But that was a good catch."

Billy smiled. He was really home, after all.

Keya approached Mark slowly with a plate in her hands. She didn't want the tea to tip over like last time. It had splashed all over Mark's white pants and had stained them. The next day he appeared without a hint that it had ever happened. Did he go to a different place where he had a free laundry service? Why was he always in a different suit? Yesterday, it had been a blue one. It was still Friday, though, at the library, now in the evening. For some reason, Francine wanted to wait Billy out, although it was almost seven-thirty. In the book, Mark and Wendy had figured out how to be together but for some reason Wendy had decided not to accept Mark in her life. What was wrong with that girl? Mark seemed to be as lost as anyone when it came to love.

Keya couldn't place her feelings on the subject. If she had any interest at all, it was in Billy, her rescuer but he happened to be so absent lately. It wasn't even his face, though. He wasn't the most handsome of people. He did have a smile that was nice to look at, though. As she approached Mark, she found herself blushing and put all thought of Billy away.

"Ah," Mark said, "More careful this time. You should be faster, instead. Spilled tea is still tea."

Mark took the plate and cup and drank it down in one gulp. He didn't burp. Keya found that ability mysterious and at the same time disturbing. "It's weird that you do that."

"Just a matter of exercising the tongue in the appropriate manner. Nothing to worry yourself over."

Then, Keya asked what she had come to ask. He seemed in a better mood. "So, is Wendy the reason why you're here?"

"Blasted woman, she tell you about Wendy?"

"No," Keya said, "I read it in the book."

"What book?"

"Tests in Time by you."

"Oh, that," Mark said, smiling, "I remember that. That was before I started traveling. Or was it after? I forget time. Time is always... rather strange. The me you see now is the result of a lot of time looking for that girl. Never did find her but what would you care, right? I'm a nobody from a different dimension."

"Well," Keya said, "It would be inhuman not to care."

Mark looked at her upset. "You used to be good company. Leave me, please."

"You used to be good company, too, Mark Piersley!" Keya yelled at him and slapped the plate out of his hands.

Keya didn't know if it was because Mark reminded her so much of her father or because she was so genuinely upset that he couldn't love Wendy again.

Billy looked at his watch. It was seven thirty and still light out. He checked in with his father. His father was in the kitchen, sitting on a lawn chair that some servants had brought in for him. A butler handed him a cup of coffee. "A little early for coffee," Billy said.

His father laughed. "It's late now," he said, "But a good sunlight is to be appreciated, Billy. Yes, yes it is. Pull it down now, Stuart."

Stuart was the butler, who pushed a button on the wall. Suddenly, the room became dark like an instant night button.

"Yea," his father said, "It was part of the renovations your mother made. Don't you remember?"

"No," Billy said.

"Yea," his father said, "It seems like a long time for me, too. The sunlight is a good trick, no?"

"So, its late out now?"

"Close to ten at night," his father said.

"I guess I'll go to sleep, then."

"Good night, boy."
Crap, it was way late. He hoped Simon would wait that long. He went to his room on the second floor, where a rope helped him get down onto his backyard. A gate was back there with a lock. Billy didn't remember the lock but he just jumped over the gate, anyway, stumbling upon a dark alleyway. He almost landed on his own thrash cans. He ran to avoid being seen by his father. He was sure that whatever he did made a lot of noise.

His mind itched for the light but he still was sure that he was home already. At the library, Simon would be first to convince him otherwise. He passed house after house that looked....different. He made it to the library but it was too dark around the building. He paced and paced and even walked around it a couple of times. Simon wasn't around.

Strange.

It was late. Simon had probably given up.

Well, Billy thought, tomorrow is another day.

Before she completely left his sight, Mark turned to look at her and said, "I'm sorry."

Keya stopped in her tracks. He had actually apologized to her.

She turned to look at him and he had his head down and was actually adjusting his hat. He always looked composed and ready for anything, yet now Mark was down and out like he had been defeated by something. "In the world of dimensions, Keya, things get mixed-up. It's hard not to get angry but I try, you know. The tea helps."

"I see," Keya said, "And talking about Wendy makes you upset?"

"It didn't used to," Mark said, "I used to-- talk about her with Francine. Except now, this dimensional prison keeps me here. I say to you that I'm here to keep dimensional stability but you should ask that woman for the truth."

"What?" Keya asked. "What does Francine have to do with you being here?"

"You have to understand that dimensions are like fairy tales. It's good to read about them but they're not good to think of as real things. People are real in these dimensions but there are only three true earths. Like anything of importance, it all comes in threes. The dimensional breaks are caused by the inexcusable actions of the council but their covert actions are being revealed, so now they're sending away travelers. I know all about their tricks."

"Where do you go when you disappear, Mark?"

"Back to my earth," Mark said, "But not like you think. I'm in a semi-coma. You think that a traveler like me, with all that I know, would be here right now if I was free. In a dark room of a castle, that blasted vampire has had me poisoned with sleep. My enemy, Arthur Lacroise helps him keep me there."

Keya looked at him in fear. "You're trapped forever?"

"Until my team comes and rescues me. Yet, they are in fear of something. They fear saving me without Wendy. Wendy, you see, is lost in some dimension. When we broke the first curse, we had traveled a lot but somehow the vampires were able to track us and they took her from me, traveling to some unknown dimension. It was bait. By the time I made it back to my earth, it was too late, the trap was set. Arthur knew exactly where I would be, him being a traveler himself, and they set me in chains from all four limbs on a flat table, then injected me with this poison. The tea helps alleviate the effects, so I can travel here while ignoring my comma."

"You're traveling in your sleep?"

"It's an old talent, called dream-streaming," Mark said, smiling, "But I only just found out about it. As for the reason why I can't travel elsewhere or remain here for extended periods, that has to do with Francine. I suggest you have a good long talk to her about such things."

"Wendy is lost in some dimension with vampires? How do you know she's even alive?"

Mark laughed at her question. "She's got a very special talent that even the vampires don't know about, not when I left her, anyway. We didn't know about it until just before she left me. The pixie dimension helped to explain it. You and that boy should visit the pixies one day; they will explain a lot. Before going off to travel everywhere, by mistake, I came upon a set of coordinates hidden in a deep chamber inside an old library book case, drilled into the shelf itself. It was written in a dusty old scroll. Personally, the pixie dimension isn't so impressive to go through all the trouble but my guess is that some old traveler had thought it was very intriguing. Intriguing enough to hide it from other travelers. When we got there, there was nothing but poppies, white fields of never ending poppies in all directions. I was to my chest in them. Then, one of them flew up to my arm, the small stems revealing themselves to be tiny pixies. Millions and millions of pixies as far as the eye could see. They're immortal, you see. They have thousands of translators and it took about six minutes before they decided on someone to translate but they finally spoke to us. They reveal information, you see, but never quite speak to you directly. You can't ask them questions, either. They're just going to give you random answers to things you either didn't want to know about or didn't want others to know about.

"At one point one of them said, 'The companion of the traveler has the ability to read peoples minds. In addition, she may block others from reading hers. In addition, she can change others' minds. In addition, she can bring up images of things in their minds. In addition, she can telepathically speak with anyone around her and confuse them. She can not move things around with her mind; this is silly human movie magic.' I laughed hard but then Wendy did the idea thing in my head and I got scared for a second. In those times, we were still not fighting."

"You and Wendy were fighting, when she was taken from you?"

"Yes," Mark said, "Please add coals to the fire, why don't you?"

"Don't start getting mad, Mark," Keya said, shaking a finger at him.

Mark smiled at her attempt to cheer him up. "There's a problem with traveling now, though. I don't know what it is. I can barely sustain it now. It's a talent like any other and when it's not working, I can sense it right away. Most other travelers out there will tell you the same, if they were not under the councils control. The council is telling them lies to keep their own agenda hidden."

"Again with the council," Keya said, "Quit it. I know they're a bunch of liars."

Then, of a sudden, a thought occurred to her. Where was Billy? It surrounded her so unconsciously that she found herself making a fist on her dress. She had on a blue dress now because Francine didn't like the belly-cut outfits. From time to time Keya would still wear a small top but nothing too out there. She did like to have some kind of parent, even if Francine was somewhat negligent on buying her pizza. It seemed, Keya had examined, that eating pizza was an unnatural occurrence and that Francine had only done it to calm her nerves. Now, Francine liked to cloud her mind with thoughts of vegetables and fruits which Keya had no choice but to eat. However, the chocolate bars she'd hidden all throughout the library were her own and those she would cherish until she was caught.

"It's easy to lose yourself," Mark continued, "In traveling. I loved to travel, you see. There was a world, all green, nothing but plants and vegetation all around. You couldn't take a step without killing a few flowers. The world itself was beautiful and you could run on fields of grass spinning circles forever without some constant worry over bugs and stuff. It was as though nature welcomed people. Never came across people in that world, though, just a few tigers and lions. They were wary of me and gave me a nod and a push in the right direction like tame cats leading you somewhere. They didn't take me anywhere but to more fields of grass. I don't understand animals, you see."

"You weren't scared of them?"

"Hmm? Oh, that part. That was when I ran, yes. But, in the end, you can't really run from either tigers or lions. They have claws and more feet. They looked at me curiously but never growled or gave chase. Matter of fact, they caught up to me at a trot, as a I rested on one of the grass fields, winded from running."

"They were smarter than you," Keya joked.

"Well, either that, or just not worried about me running. Something strange about that world, though. Very strange. Mind you tell that Billy kid to set his coordinates on it."

"Coordinates?" Keya asked.

"The green book," Mark said, "Full of coordinates to appropriate worlds or dimensions that a student traveler should visit on his way to becoming a master traveler. He wasn't foolish enough to leave the book here, was he?"

"No," Keya said, "But you never explained to him what the book was for."

"What am I, his keeper? I'm not his teacher, either, nor am I yours. I just find you pleasant, since you look like my sister and I feel that you shouldn't be ignorant of what's out there in case you involve yourself with some kind of traveler at some point in your life."

At this, Keya blushed, then bunched her hands in a fist. Where was he?

Billy returned home. In the alleyway, he felt that feeling of someone following him but he made it home without anyone bothering him. If anything, the night seemed too quiet. No one was around, not even cars. On nights like this, where he could see the stars like he could see them before with lights on in the street posts, he tended to see cats in the alleyways or hear the dogs barking as he walked past certain houses. None of these showed.

As he broke into another alleyway, crossing the street and looking both ways, he thought he caught of glimpse of Cal, Romano and Louis. They were walking, clad in black, with black t-shirts striped with one big white stripe across the front. They didn't see him right off but Billy was curious for a second and wanted to follow them, yet he decided that enough was enough for one day. He needed the sleep.

In the morning, Billy found clothes laid out for him on the side of his bed; a half size too-long pair of black leather boots, torn blue jeans, a black T-shirt and sweater, and a black cap with the letter N embroidered in white across the front. Regularly, he'd never pay attention to his appearance but his clothes were ragged and wrinkly from the previous day and he had blood, Simon's blood, on his pants. He went to shower first before coming back to his room and putting on the strange garments. He thought he might end up looking just like the bully everyone thought he was. Yet, somehow, he looked way more cool than usual, even un-geeky enough to not want to hang out with Simon. At this thought he asked himself why Simon hadn't showed up.

On his way downstairs, he saw something on the wall that disturbed him almost more than the newly-installed Persian rug that ran all along the floors. It was a family picture with his parents and him kneeling down in front of his father, smiling and making a sign like an N with his fingers. Billy didn't remember taking the picture ever but the disturbing part was that there was a fourth person in this picture, standing over his father and mother. A young man in his twenties, it looked like, with hair combed to the side wearing a suit and tie was smiling down at Billy in the picture.

This really wasn't Billy's dimension. He kept himself from frowning at the thought. At least, that explained the quiet and the lack of cats and dogs. He turned his mind toward school. If Simon was going to be anywhere, it was school and it was morning, so he might as well make the most of it. At least, he'd gotten a good sound sleep without disturbing dreams, not that he'd ever had disturbing dreams. He figured that traveling might bring them about but it was good that it had not.

At the bottom of the stairs, Billy found himself staring at his own living room. Where the kitchen had opened up from the living room with no visible walls, just a table signifying that people were now in the kitchen, now there was a big wall. A brown door existed where none had been there before, which separated both the kitchen and the living room. This wasn't very strange to Billy, since he remembered his mother suggesting such a thing to his father back in the other dimension and then having to hear his father argue over the appropriate time to do such a thing and how it would take hard work and dedication and it just wasn't prudent at this time.

He looked over his shoulder at the stairs. The rug stuck out of them too. It was a pink-purple rug with interwoven shades of green here and there. He looked at it with a measure of awe but took his eyes off of it quickly, when he heard his mother calling from the kitchen. "Get in here, already, sweety."

Sweety? Billy's mother hadn't called him anything more affectionate than "you" since he was five years old. There was an eagerness in her voice, as though she were happy to see him at the breakfast table. Billy had only just recently been allowed to eat breakfast back in his earth. This dimension certainly had qualities that would make people want to stay in it. He, then, thought about Meryl and his own mistakes back in his earth and put that thought out of his head. He definitely had to get back.

Billy went in the kitchen to find that not much was different in it, except there was now only a round woman serving them breakfast and his mother was helping her cook. "Stay, miss, stay put," she told her, as his mother tried to touch the pans. The smell of bacon hit his eyes, his nose. Before then, all the cooking had been done before he was awake and the smells would only come to him after the tray was lifted off the plate. It was so good to smell eggs being cooked. He heard a distant sizzling as he sat on one of the chairs. As usual his father sat on the end of the table but he didn't read a newspaper. He had reading glasses on and was looking affectionately at his mother, instead. He even winked at her once or twice. "So," he said, addressing Billy, "Why'd you come back?"

What was this man talking about? Billy had to make something up.

"Well, there were problems," he said.

"Problems?" his dad asked, looking concerned, "At the camp you asked us to send you to?"

Then, Billy came upon a natural conclusion, something that hadn't occurred to him before. There was another Billy just like him in this dimension. This was his life, not Billy-from-a-less-good-earth's life. A camp? Now, that explained the leather boots and the military-like hat with the N across the top.

"Nine-Vampire Academy," his dad said, "Gave you problems?"

Vampires, Billy thought, James said there were vampires in all dimensions. Weren't vampires dangerous? Yet this man--his father-- mentioned them as though they were simple cats or dogs.

"Oh, no," Billy said, "Girl problems. I came to talk to Meryl, then back to camp I go."

"Oh, you're here for one day only, Billy?" His mother asked. "Well, you certainly can't go to school on your one day off from camp."

"Oh, about that," Billy said, "Well, Meryl's going to be at school, you see."

"Oh, nonsense, we'll call Meryl's parents, Jim and Marsha, they'll be more than happy to spend time with us and won't a day off from all this vampire fighting be good?"

"Well," Billy said, "Yes, I mean, that's good. No one's trying to argue that point," Billy said, trying to get himself out of a corner, "But, also, do you know Simon, he needs my help at the library."

"Ah," his father said, "And there we see the gist of it. I knew it."

His mother gave him a shake with a spatula, although the cooking lady was trying to take it back from here, "Now, now, what did we tell you about all that learning?"

"Leave him be, Jane," his father said, "If he wants to frolic about in a pointless task, who are we to judge?"

"Well, if you do go back to camp today, please stop by the house before you go, Billy."

"I'll do my best," Billy lied. He really did like his new parents but they were not his own parents. They were the parents of the other Billy. And who knows, maybe this other Billy enjoyed hunting down vampires. He definitely seemed to be eager to do it. They even had caps that proclaimed them as hunters of vampires. Billy felt like taking it off but it would be too obvious and he really wanted to blend in.

Luckily, his parents had mistaken his bloodied clothes as jelly stains or he'd have to dig himself out of more than just the camp problem.

He ate quietly but his parents kept rambling on about Billy's use of the word library. They were, in particular, really interested in knowing who had taught him the word. At last Billy said, getting up, "Well, while I was passing the school, I met Cal and his buddies and they were talking a bunch of junk about places where books were stored."

"Ha," his father said, "Just don't you mind those boys. They pretend they graduated from Nine-Vampires but they're just a bunch of hooligans looking to cause trouble. Mind them some. In any case, say hello to Gambit for me, will you? He was always a good instructor, old buddy of mine from the old days in the academy, you know."

His mother rolled her eyes.

"Go before he tells you about his poker buddies. I won't have you gambling away your life in the academy. Gambling-Gambit--oh, my god, leave now!"

His father laughed. His mother gave his father a wink. They were flirting with each other, even now. His own parents had never before been open about their relationship and especially not in front of Billy. He wondered if he could change his own parents to be that sincere with each other. He went back upstairs and grabbed his pants. Even if he had a new uniform, his pants had been a gift from his father and he wouldn't see them left behind in another dimension. He found an old backpack just where he remembered putting it in the previous dimension and slung it over his shoulder. With the pants in there, he finally walked out of his would-be house.

More important matters intruded on his thoughts. He had to get to Simon and get back to where he came from. The problem was that he had to wait until it got dark. James had explained that traveling wasn't possible in the day, when the stars weren't out. Billy saw the back of his door and didn't recognize it. There was the emblem of an eagle in the center of the door, all in gold. He stared at it, as he walked down a set of stairs that led to the walkway toward the gate to his house. The gate itself was surprising with its iron black bars so close together. He remembered the bars being at least five inches apart. These were so close together, the gate almost looked whole like one big black blotch.

He remembered, as he walked down hill, the first time he had walked Meryl down the street. He had been thinking of Karyn, then. Karyn was a popular girl in his school, who had this tendency for pink shirts and pink skirts. In her eyes, Billy could see a phantom green like a lake or a smooth-looking pond. Karyn had never showed the slightest interest in Billy or anyone for that matter. It was good that at least some of them still played the role of nearly-twelve-year olds.

Billy had grown up too fast, he thought. One rejection led to some pain but, in his head, Billy couldn't let go of it like a lasting headache. Why had she done it? Meryl was his, to a point not just because she had kissed him but because, at one point, he'd been holding her hand and he thought that he liked it and that she did, too. Looking at the sidewalk as he walked downhill, he almost hit the post with the big "C" street now obviously pointing in the wrong direction to Billy. It was another dimension. Even if it seemed too real and too good, did he really have to leave? Simon would probably not want to stay.

Then, Billy saw something quite strange. Simon was coming up the street and leading him by the hand was an older girl, probably around sixteen or seventeen. She was the popular blonde-haired type. She wore a short pink blouse and blue jeans. Simon was coming down C street with her in hand and smiling like it was the greatest day ever.

In another sense, Billy thought, it might be hard to convince Simon to leave. As Billy crossed the street, Simon and his sister, Billy guessed, crossed paths. Simon stopped. The girl smiled down at Billy, since she was at least a foot taller than him. "Hi," she said, "Wow, you're so much thinner now, Billy. That camp sure is working."

"Thanks," Billy said, "Simon, let's get some ice-cream."

"What's wrong with you, huh?" The girl asked him, suddenly, "You know that the ice-cream shop's been closed for years now and still you don't stop teasing. Well, if you're going to act superior, Billy, like you did before, you best get back to your little camp and--?"

"I'm sorry."

"And--wait, what? Did you apologize?"

Billy nodded, not knowing what to do. He had stopped walking because the girl had a hand on her hip and was pointing a finger at him. She retracted her hand. "Oh," She said, "Well, that's good. I'm glad they are teaching you something in camp. This little champ said he was back for good yesterday. Can you believe that?"

"Oh," Billy said, "That's, yes, well the camp can be tricky on everyone."

"You're telling me. I missed my little toy so much. He does such good work on the nail-polish, especially the toes." As she was saying this, she patted his head and Simon snuggled closer to her, smiling all the while.

Simon had touched this goddess's feet? He was definitely going to be hard to convince. "Well?" the girl asked.

"I was going to walk with Simon," Billy said.

"Nope," the girl said, shaking her head, "Nope, nope, nope. I promised and I don't break a promise. I'm going to walk my toy all the way to the gates myself. He wants a kiss, too, doesn't he?"

Simon blushed.

Why was he so silent? "Oh," Billy said, under gritted teeth, "I bet he does."

He kept walking. Once they got into the school, Simon would have some things to answer for.

Mark was silent. It was Saturday morning now. Billy had not come back. It was probably accurate that he wouldn't come back but Francine had been sure he would. Still, it didn't matter. At no point in the night did the void reappear and as soon as Mark vanished around nine at night, they had closed the library and gone home. Francine said they weren't going to the movies this morning. Some things had come up. She was sitting on her chair by the entrance behind her computer which only she could see. Francine had been on the internet all day, looking for answers to dimensional problems that she was finding. She said that something about the dimensions that Mark had mentioned to her didn't seem right and she was investigating it online to see if she came up with similar problems. So far, she'd found nothing is what she told Keya but Keya suspected that Francine kept certain things secret from her. It wasn't because Mark kept telling Keya not to trust Francine but because certain things at home didn't make sense, either.

Francine would put the milk cap back on the milk but then, if Keya were to use the milk, she'd go and take the cap off. Then, she'd leave a trail of books to her room, all blue and Keya would follow it, only to find that when she looked back, all the books were gone. Also, there was a sort of magic to what happened in the morning. Usually, Keya and Francine would sit and have breakfast in a small table in a corner of the small apartment. At around seven in the morning, all the spoons would begin to float up toward the ceiling, a phenomenon that Francine explained as Dimensional Instability but why were they floating up? Then, they would all fall everywhere making clanging noises, and Keya would be forced to pick them up. Didn't dimensional whatever mean that it had to do with dimensions? Yet, there were no voids.

As Mark thought, Keya kicked the machine. Another chocolate dropped. She was at eight before Mark spoke to her. "You're bothered by something."

"I think she's a witch," Keya whispered at him.

"Oh," Mark said, "Nothing new, really. You have to understand that there's good ones, though. That's the trick, anyways. It doesn't mean you can trust them, only that you can trust they won't make a knife float in through your back while you're not looking. People who deal with magic are always somewhat strange."

"Like you?" Keya asked, "Because you act strange sometimes."

"It's because I know too much," Mark said, "Or know too little. Yet, I think you're more worried about the fat boy."

"Oh," Keya said, looking back at the chocolates, "I haven't thought of him lately. Although, he promised he'd be here."

"Not yet noon, is it?"

"No," Keya said, "But you'd think he'd be on time. I mean, this is important."

"Only the true traveler can save this library, girl. You think he is the true traveler? He isn't even trained by the council."

"I thought you said the council was corrupted."
"Yes, but they give good training. I was trained there myself, that's how I found out all their tricks to make innocent people criminals for them. The travelers steal and the council profits."

"I think Billy is more than you think," Keya said, smiling a little. Another chocolate dropped.

"Watch it now, if you leave that door propped open, you'll have Francine upset with you for setting off the fire alarm."

"You know about the fire alarm?"

"Yea," Mark said, "I set it off every day for fifteen days, when I first started appearing here. The thought of losing Wendy forever was....somewhat upsetting for me. That woman kept insisting I stop doing that. She has spirit for a witch but, ugh, such disrespect for others."

"I don't think you know her like I do. She treated me good when I had nothing."

"You still have nothing," Mark said.

"No," Keya said, "Now I have the library and a pen and a notebook."

"Love to write, don't you?"

"I finished reading Tests in Time," Keya said, sadly.

Mark cursed.

"But before I ask, I have another question."

"Shoot kid, you got five minutes before that woman comes here with the tea."

"How is it you can kick the machine?"

"The machine is magic, so a semi-ghost like me, a limbo traveler, you could say, can interact with it as though it were real. If it were a normal vending machine, I could not touch it."

"But you can touch the tea," Keya said, pointing a finger at him.

"Yes," Mark said, smiling, "And what part of Francine is a witch doesn't add up to magic, to you?"

"Oh, my god!" Keya said, stunned, "The tea is magical tea!"
"It took you long enough, child," Francine said, from behind her, stunning them both.

"I, well," Keya said, blushing, "I mean, I thought you were a nice per--?"

"No need girl. I don't mind my talent, just don't put a demoralizing name behind it. I'm not a witch. I'm practiced in magic. And that should be the end of it. As for your little discussion about it with this one, please don't refer to him for information on the subject. He may know about dimensions but his knowledge of witches is minimal. Here's your tea and don't try and snatch it from me or I'll send you back to your coma."

Mark took the tea cup and plate from her carefully. He had a frown on his face. "Too hot, too hot!"

"That was for telling her I was a witch!"

Francine left.

Mark yelled after her, "She figured it out on her own, woman!" He set the tea cup down beside him, some of it spilling. He blew on his fingers, although in reality, Mark had explained to her that he didn't feel things like normal people did. "Still," Mark said, smiling after Francine, "You have to admire the trick."
Keya was still a bit shaken. "She couldn't have just told me?"

"No," Mark said, "That's not her way. She's like a real-life teacher in that way. She likes to test your deductive reasoning, which is more than a school will do for you."

"She still could have told me."

In the back of the school, a whole table was reserved for Billy and his friends. Billy didn't even have friends in his old school. Yet here he was at the lunch table, surrounded by Cal, Romano, Louis, Meryl and Karyn. He sat in the middle, between Karyn and Meryl while the three boys sat on the other side of the table.

"In the academy," Cal was saying, acting like his usual confident self, "We have battle tactics training, where they let you use real weapons. Billy got cut five times, the first time they let him use a katana, that's like a really sharp thin-blade sword from Japan."

"And what did you do at the academy?" Karyn asked him, getting closer to him. She was wearing a pink sweater and a knee-cut pink skirt with pink tennis shoes.

"Not much," Billy said, not wanting to make up another lie.

"Really?" Meryl asked from the other side of him, "But rumors say, you got back last night and they only let you go home early if they know you'll be accepted in the Nine-Vampires crew."

"You're going to be part of the crew?" Louis asked him, "That's high-class, man."

"C'mon, Billy," Karyn said, touching his shoulder with her hand, "You can tell us."

"Well," Billy said, thinking quickly, "I, I mean we learned, me and Simon, team tactical espionage, like to be spies. But it takes two guys who are really like opposites to do it, that's why I chose Simon."

"No wonder Simon is back, too!" Meryl exclaimed, excitedly. Billy still had trouble looking at her with her braces off, the way she had looked when he'd seen her with Cal wearing that same blue dress.

"That's high-tech," Cal said, smiling, "I bet you had gadgets and stuff to play with like electronics from the government, even."

"No," Billy lied, "But here, in my backpack, I have a set of dirty pants. I wore them when they tested us."

Billy thought he might get away with impressing them with the pants that he'd worn when he'd been kicked at by the bullies. Some of their boot prints were still on them. Still, they were new pants and a good wash would remove boot stains.

The five of them ooed him. "They tested both of you at the same time?"

"No one's the same after the tests," Romano said, his head bent down. "But they never tested me with someone else. That would have been rough."

"Yea, well," Billy said, "You know, that's secret, no one's supposed to know."

"Of course," Cal said, "You see, Billy's always been about honesty and all that. He knows that we can discuss anything we want in school but we have to be dedicated to the Nine Vampire Academy in the end."
Then, Billy broke out into a laugh. Not because of what CAL had said but because the acronym of the institution he mentioned spelled N.V.A. Billy didn't even know how to play basketball. Maybe, the other him did.

"Well," Meryl said, getting closer to Billy, although he was trying really hard to ignore her, "Obviously, that's not the truth. What's the secret Billy?"

"They found out I could do other things," Billy said, "And they let me and Simon go for a brief period."

"Like how brief?" Karyn asked.

"We have to go back," Billy said, "Tonight."

"Tonight?"

"Wow," Louis said, "When we graduated, they said the academy was closed to us forever. Now, they get to go back after only one day. Lucky."
"Why won't they let us go to the academy?" Karyn asked.

"Girls," Cal said, "Wouldn't survive the training. There's a part where you have to do one-hundred push-ups. It's so much easier for me to do that than for you."

"Ha," Meryl said, smiling, "I can do a hundred easy."

"But your father is the leader of the Academy," Cal said, "How fair is that?"

Billy saw Simon from afar, across the way in an area with swings placed above a grassy field. Some of the students were eating on blankets below trees while teacher's oversaw them from atop a tower above the school with binoculars. The tower wasn't in his real world, nor were the swings but Billy had gotten used to the unexpected changes of the new earth. Aside from Billy was a terrace where students sat on benches and tables eating lunch. Like in most schools, they were separated into groups. Billy seemed to be the leader of the N-group, or the Nine-Vampire Academy Graduates. It seemed that, according to Cal, boys from ages nine to eleven were trained for two years in the academy and then pushed back into the educational system. Billy only found this out from Cal mentioning it off-hand. He was so clever with words, unlike Billy, who only knew English well because of his need to get a better allowance. Their bench was the only one in the grass area away from the terrace. Obviously, they were the popular kids of the school, all clad in black, except the girls, who wore black jackets with the N in white embroidered on the back. These were given to them by members of the academy. Otherwise, their use of pink and white flourished underneath their jackets, especially Karyn's.

"Excuse me," Billy said, hurriedly, "I need to speak to my....er, partner about the return to the academy."

They gave him a nod. The girls were sad to see him leave but Billy left them to their foolishness.

Simon had his own entourage of white-gloved individuals, all wearing glasses. There were only two of them but they remained at Simon's side like eager puppies, waiting to be petted. These boys wore the ugliest squared brown and red shirts one could imagine, and Billy had, in his worst days, never seen something so horrible and brown slacks. Simon, on the other hand, was also clad in black like Billy and had his cool shaded glasses on, that only looked like regular glasses to Simon but like shades to others. What was up with the gloves? "Simon," Billy said, calling out to him, "Simon." He was ignoring him.

Billy grabbed his shoulder and Simon turned around, snapping his hand away. "Okay, okay, we'll talk." He turned to his lackeys who were frowning up at Billy. "Leave me."

They walked off hesitantly toward the shade of the terrace.

Simon took off his glasses, "What you fail to realize, Billy, is the importance of being happy."

"What are you talking about, Simon?"

"Me and my social network have discussed it thoroughly. We're putting an importance to returning to misery, Billy. Yet, here we are, the age of perfection, yes there's vampires but we're happier here."

"Simon, there's another two of us here," Billy said.

"So, you can send them away with your trick."

"It's not a trick," Billy said, "It's called traveling and the people at the council can detect, I saw them, when you use it wrong."

"So, let them come, we'll be happy here, at least longer than in our world. Don't make me bring out the friend card on this. Fair is fair. You got me involved with those bullies and they hurt me. Now, here you got me involved in this world and I like it. Why are you trying to send me back to pain?"

"Pain?" Billy asked, "There's people you love in the other world. The people here are fake, fake to our mind, don't you see that?"

"My sister is not fake to me!" Simon snapped and walked away.

Billy sighed. It was going to be really hard to convince him.

"So what's your real question?" Mark asked her.

Keya was staring down at a half-eaten chocolate bar. She was getting sick of them already. "You said that this Arthur Lacroise was looking to kill your little sister in all dimensions. How come you didn't try and stop him?"

"I was looking for Wendy, first," Mark said, sighing. "My search for Wendy blinded me to what his true intentions were. In my world, the other you is too dangerous to be hunted like he hunts the others. If anything, I regret having showed him how to travel."

"You showed Arthur Lacroise how to travel?"

"We were together in fighting the vampires," Mark said, "Friends, you can call it. But when Arthur's would-be wife died, he turned against us, blaming me mainly, for failing to save his wife's life. He also blamed me for getting them into the mess we were in, seeing as how I was the one rebelling against the vampires, while the rest of our world was under a pact of non-violence."

"Do you have a way of finding him?"

"No, but here you are safe from him."

"You said that before. Why am I safe here?"

"Oh,"Mark said, "That's a lengthy explanation."

Keya sat, staring at him, "Go on."

"There are three earths," Mark said motioning with his hands, a thin blue smoke formed a triangle, "Which are considered real earths. Let's call the edge of the triangle, a true earth and this line between one earth and the next are traveling dimensions where one can travel to. These are the infinite number of dimensions one might come across before even locating a real earth. Coordinates for the real earths are not really known but this is one of them."

"This is a real earth, one of true ones, not just another dimension?"
"Yes," Mark said, "And only travelers can tell which is which because from a true earth, a traveler may travel out during both day and night. I may not have mentioned this earlier but travelers can only travel out of a dimension at night when they can see the stars. In some earths this rule is exempt because stars come out during the day, yet in earths where there are no stars at either day or night and traveling is still possible, these are what form the process for dimensional stability. Now, let's see what the council is doing. You see the lines between true earths are earths themselves and if a traveler takes away something from an earth repeatedly, then what they're doing is distorting the lines. If you break the triangle, disconnect lines from one true earth and the next, traveling will be impossible and all those people traveling for the council will be stuck in those dimensions, unable to return home forever. Worse, these earths will go spiraling off-course, colliding into each other in dimensions in time, causing dimension voids like the one in this library, where earths will end up merging with one another, causing chaos and destruction. It may undo the very fabric of time and space itself, just so that the council can have its spending money."

"And how do you expect Bil--anyone to fix that?"

Mark shrugged, "Destroy the council, I guess. Not really possible without an expert traveler like myself but that's the way things go. And, to answer your question, about why Lacroise won't follow you here...well, he's blinded like the council. You see, they believe there's only three coordinates to each dimension, causing their dimension total to be in the millionth position, nine million to be exact. Yet," Mark said, smiling, "I know the truth. This earth needs four coordinates to travel to, and Lacroise will be looking and looking on other dimensions for however long he wants but will never be able to get to you here, as here we can not be detected by the council's radar because they know nothing about it."

Keya laughed, "We're in the fourth dimension."

Mark sighed, "Not funny and, inaccurate. We are in a dimension that needs four coordinates to travel to. There are multi-many others like it. Now, if only we could find the third real earth."

"You haven't found it yet? I thought you were the greatest traveler ever," Keya said, a hand on her hip.

"Don't mistake me for some amateur like your would-be boyfriend," Mark said, smiling when Keya stumbled, "I know how to get around from dimension to dimension and how to get back to my own world, the second real earth, and that I only know because of its position in the standard dimensional chart drawn by Isik, an old friend of mine, back in the council. At first, I was hesitant to believe him because all this traveling started giving me headaches about what earth should really be like and what to expect from people. I saw harsh worlds, where there was nothing but kids in cloths begging for food, worlds where houses were on fire, people burning alive in them, setting themselves on fire for some fake god that promised them eternal life. It hasn't been an easy road traveling."

"I know," Keya said, sighing, "I didn't mean that it was easy. I just thought you would have found the third one by now."

"Not from lack of trying, missy," Mark said, "What do you mean, you know?"

"I've only been to a few worlds myself and, at first, I thought the prospect of a flying ship was pretty nice but not really. Not if it's used to keep people locked up in boxes, only to send them back to their own version of hell. What's the purpose of sending people back, if they wanted to escape their dimension? And then, she sent me to the vampires, as though she were doing me a favor, ha!"

"She?"

"A girl, a witch. They called her Teresa."

"Oh," Mark said, "Her. I told you about that already. But let explain more...accurately. You have to understand that witches can't control traveling like travelers can. Their dimensional teachings are not about coordinates; they're about control. Inasmuch as I know women, they always want to be in control of things. Foolish thing, that, to be in control all the time like you were some nutcase without a thought in the world but yourself. What kind of world is that to live in? Teresa, of whatever world you ended up in, may have made you travel during the day because witches magic isn't affected by night or day, but she has no control over coordinates or dimensions. She randomly sent you to another dimension. It's true she could have sent you back to your own dimension but that's what is called reverse magic, not traveling. If something happens magically, a witch has a period of hours to reverse that magic before it becomes a sustainable spell. Doesn't work with death. Trust me, I tried it. It's the reason Arthur Lacroise hates me so much. After the vampires killed his wife, did you think we did not try and save her life? Arthur was instrumental in our world in creating a resistance against those blood-sucking demons. He was a good friend," Mark said, sadly.

"How does your good friend kill your sister?"

"People are just people, Keya. We're governed by desires and Lacroise, albeit smarter than most of us in our vampire hunter club, got upset and he was engulfed by a darkness, revenge. He set his mind on vengeance and forgot all about fighting the vampires. He's the reason I'm in a comma. My dearest friend turned into worst enemy, all over a mistake. I truly can't say if we could have saved Karla's life. I can't. Too many people were storming the castle where the vampires were. We had the Army and U.S. special forces behind us, along with you and your deadly slingshot and snipers. Karla was captive and we were sent to rescue her. Unexpectedly, Lacroise's sister, an evil woman, a witch, cast a spell on the castle, like a web that wraps itself inward and bursts into flame. The entire castle burned with army and special forces groups in it. Many escaped but others did not. Lacroise's sister, I suspected was evil, and the cause of the fire but Lacroise didn't want to listen. He had loved his sister and she had been a close ally to him and had never intentioned against him before. Thinking that it was all a trick that I set up, Lacroise turned against us, slashing at me with sideways voids. It's what's called Tactical Dimensionality. They don't teach that in the council but its like battling with traveler's magic, using dimensions as a weapon. Half of my body would have been transported elsewhere, while the other half remained on that castle roof, had it not been for quick thinking on Teresa's part. She sliced a wave of air, witches' magic, and sent the created void tumbling into the sky as if she were throwing a frisbee on a roof. In the next instant, two things happened that ruined many friendships and a lifetime of f