Alice was born on a farm in New Jersey, the younger of the two children born of her parents. Considering the relatively short period of time Alice had lived before her sudden expulsion from real life, she hadn’t experienced much. But living on a farm gave her the opportunity to do things other kids never got to do. She’d learned how to take care of all the horses, cows, and chickens on the farm, as well as the seemingly endless acres of peach trees. Alice’s family grew peaches. It was her favorite hobby, going out and handpicking peaches even though her father and the workers could pick the fields much quicker. Her and her sister had fun running through the fields and snatching up the peaches for themselves. Afterward, they would take their fruit inside the house and watch movies together.
From age four the Thief began scouting Alice for Ani’s plot. There was no cover-up, no smoke and mirrors. Alice had been a clever child from birth and she picked up on everything going on during her rearing. Her parents didn’t want to give her up. Their guilt showed obvious in their faces and mannerisms every single day of Alice’s life. They were fraught with sadness over knowing that they had no power to stop the Thief. They had books, many books, about glyph writing. They knew when the Thief threatened that he could find them wherever they went that he was telling the truth. They had both read all the books, but unfortunately, the powers hadn’t been passed down to either of them. They had tried to find the ability in Alice before they knew about the Thief. Alice was certain that they wouldn’t have taught her a single glyph had they known the intentions of Ani and his drones.
But Alice had been taught. And she became proficient. By age four she didn’t even need her parents to bring her snacks in the afternoon. She merely conjured whatever she wanted. She only had to promise that she would conjure healthy snacks. By five, she could conjure complicated devices like cameras or televisions. By six, she discovered that she could conjure things that only existed in her imagination like an actual Golden Snitch from Harry Potter or a working lightsaber from Star Wars. By seven, Alice had mastered the art of conjuration. And from then until she turned thirteen years old, her powers only became more and more acute.
This had been her parents’ plan. Once they met the Thief, they knew that they had no chance of saving Alice unless they made her a strong glyph writer. It was a good decision too, in the end.
When the Thief arrived on Alice’s thirteenth birthday, her and her family were already running through the peach fields. And the moment they heard the Thief coming after them, Alice conjured a door. Alice’s father had brought his axe with him. Alice hugged and kissed each of her family members without a tear in her eye. Her mother opened the door to a raging blizzard, and Alice stepped through the portal with much more resolve than any thirteen-year old should have to have. And once the door shut, Alice’s father smashed it to splinters with his axe.
Leaving her family had not been an easy task. While she lived in Yadwiga Mansion, Alice had thought many times about how the fear instilled in her by the Thief had overcome any feeling she had had of family unity. Of course she hated leaving her family. But knowing that she would never see them again if the Thief had caught her was even worse than the choice she had made. Leaving gave her a chance to come back and see them. She didn’t care if her actions seemed that of a coward, turning tail and running away. But she was only thirteen when the Thief came. Despite having glyph writing mastered, she still had been but a child. Standing up to forces far more powerful than her own would have been suicide. Her parents knew that, and she knew it too. She knew something else too.
The day before her thirteenth birthday, Lee had shown up at the farm. He told her parents about the mansion and gave them the glove to open the door. The moment Alice stepped into Yadwiga Mansion, she knew she had a chance to develop her powers to amazing levels. She hadn’t told anyone else her feelings until Josh came along. He had a look about him that told Alice he wanted the same kinds of things she wanted.
Alice wanted revenge.
Living on a farm, working together, living every moment of every day together, brought a family close. At any point during any day, Alice and her family knew what task needed performing on the farm, and so they always knew where each other were. It was almost like they had ESP. They were just a four-person family as close as can be. And so the thought of Ani and his drones instilling so much fear into her family made Alice absolutely lose it. She never snapped at the mansion in front of Luna, Check or Josh. She would have liked to many times. But, no, she wouldn’t allow herself to show weakness.
She merely tucked it all inside her until the day when she would have the chance to stop Ani.
The day the mansion flooded with those mindless drones, Alice wished so desperately that her powers were strong enough. She hadn’t been able to match the drone, though. He hadn’t been a glyph writer like her, but the glyphs he had tattooed on his body gave him protection from some glyphs being used against him. Just thinking about it made Alice’s blood boil. Her temper fumed several times a day, like some sort of prehistoric volcano, turning the sky gray with ash plumes, sending showers of lava rocks raining down on the villages around her.
When Lee had made the front door of the mansion close forever, Alice knew this was it. When they read his letter, she knew she had a chance. When they found the hidden door and the forbidden book, Alice knew she finally had a way to get her revenge.
No, it didn’t matter to her that her family hadn’t been harmed. Just the thought of them worrying that they might be harmed made Alice wild. She knew it would take years. That was the point. After reading Lee’s letter many times, she knew the purpose of bringing the four of them to Yadwiga. Yes, Lee had had magnanimous intentions in keeping them safe. But he also had an ulterior motive.
Months after the Invasion, as they came to call it, Alice and Josh sat together in the parlor.
“I’ve been thinking about the letter lately,” Alice said. She had a book on her lap, as did Josh. They had all had birthdays since their arrivals at the mansion. Josh and Alice were the same age, now fourteen. Somehow, Josh had already begun to grow up quicker than a fourteen-year old should.
Josh looked up from his book, his dark brown hair a wavy mess on his head. His eyes matched in color, but they were much more focused than his hair. He always seemed to smile tentatively, as if he wanted to give each of his reactions a smile to go along. He was very smart for someone so young. He reminded Alice of a kid that might be in the final round of the National Spelling Bee.
“What have you been thinking about?” he asked. He closed the book, the only book he ever read now, the Book of Forbidden Glyphs.
“I don’t think Lee was just trying to protect us here,” Alice said.
Josh shrugged. “What was he doing then?”
“Well…this is the only place you can find these books. It’s the only place with your book. It’s not a safe house or a sanctuary. Well, I mean, it is, technically, but that’s not its primary purpose. Lee just went about it a different way that Ani did.”
Josh shook his head. “I don’t…what are you trying to say?”
“I’m saying that Lee’s plan was to kidnap us just like Ani’s plan. But he just went about it in a different way.”
“What? That’s crazy.” Josh huffed and laughed a little. “What? You think he planned to have Ani and three drones break into the mansion?”
Alice shook her head emphatically. “No, I don’t think he did. But I do think he was preparing us to live on our own for a long time. He left Mr. Tuff’s suit hanging in your closet!” Days after Lee had gone, Josh found the entire suit worn by Mr. Tuff in his bedroom closet. He managed to get the automaton glyph to work a little.
“Come on, Josh, you’re sharper than this. Lee wanted the four of us for almost the same reason Ani wanted us. Ani wants to steal the wish glyph power from you to use it for himself. Lee wants to develop our powers to use for himself. Only he doesn’t want to rule the world or anything. He wants us to stop Ani. He knows we’re the only ones who can stop him.”
“Us? But he’s an elder,” Josh said. “He’s more powerful than all of us.”
“Yeah, I know. I thought about that too.” Alice sighed. “There has to be something about him that renders him ineffectual against Ani.”
“He took care of Ani pretty well when he dragged him out of the mansion.”
“Yeah, but maybe that’s all he can do. Maybe he can’t finish him off.”
Josh seemed to give pause to this theory.
“See? See? You see what I’m saying, don’t you?”
Josh began nodding slowly. “I guess I do.” Then he found Alice’s eyes with his own. “I agree with you, I think, but is this a way for you to justify your revenge plot?”
Alice’s eyes narrowed. “What?”
“The…uh…the uh…n-never mind.”
Alice’s eyes narrowed even more. “What are you talking about?”
Josh averted his gaze for a moment, obviously very nervous. “Well, you remember when I learned the telepathy glyph? And you let me try it on you?”
Alice gasped and drew herself up straight. She slapped a hand over her mouth. “You said you wouldn’t read anything except what I was thinking at that moment!”
“I know, I know! And I did. You were thinking of peaches, but some other stuff leaked into my view. I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to.”
“You haven’t told the others, right?”
“No, no. Of course not.”
“Not even Luna?” Alice fixed Josh with her best angry mother look.
“No! I wouldn’t do that to you. The revenge thought also came with all the reasons and stuff. It was a big thought. I know you’ve kept it from everyone for a reason.”
Alice relaxed. She slumped back into the couch and let out a sigh. But she quickly sat back up straight. “What else leaked into your view?”
Josh tried to act nonchalant about it, waving his hand dismissively and rolling his eyes. “Oh, nothing, just, uh, you know, bras and, um…prom or something.”
“Bras and prom! Oh jeez,” Alice groaned, falling back into the couch.
“Don’t worry, I don’t care what’s in that head of yours.”
“Hey! I’m never gonna have a prom! Do you realize how devastating that is?”
“All right, I’m going to go up to my room for a nap now.”
“Yeah…you keep that to yourself.”
Since she had mastered her category of glyph writing so early, Alice took to something else most of the time instead of studying. She’d seen something that Lee had done. He had done this during the fight with Ani. Lee hadn’t written any of the glyphs he used. Instead, he had merely slapped his hand against a surface and a glyph appeared. This new form of glyph writing captivated Alice. Obviously it was a tactic used only by the most skilled glyph writers, but what better way to utilize her time than to become as skilled as Lee. Plus, if the four of them were to fight Ani and his drones sometime in the future, it would be helpful to not have to write out every little line of each glyph they wanted to use.
The idea came to Alice easily. She realized that when she used her fingers to write glyphs, she wasn’t actually drawing anything. Her fingers didn’t have pen points on them. When she moved her finger across a surface, a glowing line appeared. So she figured if she could use a finger to draw one line, she could use her whole hand to draw many lines. Of course, getting her hand to draw an entire glyph was much more difficult than it seemed.
At first she simply focused her thoughts on her palm. She took what she knew about writing with her finger and applied it to her entire hand. The familiar glowing that came from her finger did come from her palm sometimes. She managed to conjure the first hundred pages of Where the Sidewalk Ends, and an orange without any pulp inside of it before her attempts began wielding nothing at all. Quickly, frustration set in. Being diligent and persistent at such a young age was not an easy task. Alice spent her fair share of time throwing fits alone in her bedroom.
Josh wasn’t much help, for he became so immersed in his forbidden book that he barely noticed anyone else doing anything. The times that Alice actually got Josh to hang out with her, she had to physically take the book from him and set it aside. Alice knew in her heart that this technique she’d witnessed Lee using was part of the secret to their survival. She also convinced herself that the door would not open until they each knew the technique. The door wouldn’t open unless they were ready for it to open. It knew when they were ready.
From the start of her time at the mansion, Alice did not like Luna. Luna was mean, critical, angry. Alice didn’t need to expose herself to that kind of atmosphere. But as the weeks wore on after the Invasion, she ended up spending more and more time with Luna. Luna and Josh, whether they admitted to it or not, were growing extremely close, and not in the way that Alice and Josh were close. Alice saw Josh as a twin brother, someone exactly like her who she could trust unequivocally. Luna and Josh were a different story. But after a year of trying to figure out this technique of using one’s entire hand to write a glyph and failing each and every time, Alice knew she had to go to Luna for help. Luna knew everything she could know about glyph writing. Bound to never use her powers again, she had nothing left but knowledge.
Alice found Luna on her bed one afternoon. Everyone had seen Luna in her sundress and ponytail during the Invasion, so she wore a similar outfit everyday henceforth. Alice couldn’t get over the tattoos on Luna’s face. They were a constant reminder of the horror that could have befallen all of them. Alice couldn’t even begin to imagine what they made Luna think about.
“What?” Luna said as Alice entered her bedroom.
“Um…I have a favor to ask you,” Alice said timidly.
“Okay,” Luna replied. She deliberately looked up from the book she was reading. “So ask.”
“I have a theory,” Alice said. “I think there’s a new way to write glyphs and I was hoping you’d help me with it because I think it’s one of the keys to us getting out of here.”
“Okay. What’s your theory?”
Alice didn’t know why she was so nervous about talking to Luna. Maybe it was because Josh wasn’t around. It wasn’t a secret that Luna’s attitude changed dramatically when Josh was with her.
Alice took a deep breath. Just do it. “Well, it has to do with using your whole hand to write the glyph all at once instead of just a finger.”
Luna sat up. “You know, I thought I read something about that a couple of weeks ago.”
Alice smiled and stepped further into the room, closing the door behind her.
Alice gathered the whole house at the dining room table one night. Mr. Tuff clumsily placed a few trays off food out for them and then vanished into the kitchen.
“You remade Mr. Tuff?” Check asked in astonishment.
“Yeah,” Josh said. He watched Mr. Tuff leave as if her were a proud father watching his son graduate from college. “I finally got the automaton glyph to obey me. As soon as I figured it all out, I used it on Mr. Tuff’s suit. I like dinner being made for me more than conjuring food. But I don’t think the glyph is too stable.”
“All right, guys,” Alice said. “I wanted us to eat dinner together for a reason. With Luna’s help, I’ve learned something extremely useful to us. I think it’s one of the keys to us opening that door.”
Both Check’s and Josh’s eyes went wide.
“Pay close attention.”