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Chapter 21

As the siblings entered the dining room to get breakfast, they all noticed the absence of their doubles and felt better immediately.

Then Mom yelled, half laughing, “Watch it, Noir! You nearly made me trip! This was followed by the sound of clicking produced by the uncut nails of a large, black Labrador casually walking into the room.

“Come on, over here, Noir,” said Nissa, picking up Mom’s use of the dog’s name when it came over to her and offered his head for scratching.

During breakfast, Leven, Iknow, and Chacha all greeted the dog and petted him but had the same look of confusion that indicated that they also didn’t have a clue that they had ever had a dog.

“Leven, It’s not too early to start planning your twelfth birthday party for next week,” Mom said.

“I’m working on it, Mom,” Leven replied as evenly as he could. Meanwhile, he was in extreme turmoil. Since he had looked forward to his eleventh birthday for at least two years and had even taken on the nickname ‘Leven’ to celebrate his near obsession with that age, skipping over that birthday to go on to age twelve represented a cosmic breakdown in his understanding of the way things were supposed to work. Also, his birthday was at least five weeks away, he was certain of that.

“I know you all are still getting used to living without your older sister, Abigail,” Mom said, wiping away a tear and barely controlling a crack in her voice. “But we have to still live our lives as though every day were special.” Mom suddenly turned her back and fled the room.

Nobody said a word. All four children finished their breakfast rapidly while staring into their cereal bowls.

“We need to talk about this! Now!” Iknow said, echoing the sentiments of every other sibling.

When they had reassembled up in the attic, Leven said just short of panicking, “Noir, missing eleven, Abigail? What on earth?”

“That might be the problem,” Iknow said very upset and struggling to understand what was happening to them as were Chacha and Nissa. “Maybe we’re not on earth.”

Chacha looked totally confused and about to break down. “But we have to be! Everything is like it’s always …,” he stopped in mid-sentence.

Nissa tried to clarify Chacha’s meaning. “Everything seems almost exactly like it’s always been. There’s only a few changes.”

“That we know of,” said Iknow.

Leven asked in as even a tone as he could manage, “Why did Mom bother to say ‘your older sister, Abigail’ instead of just referring to her as Abigail? Wouldn’t we know our own sister?”

Everyone was shocked by what Leven had said. But it was true. Everything that had happened that morning at breakfast seemed different but it also seemed false somehow. Almost staged for their viewing only.

After a few minutes, Iknow said tentatively, “So you think that we just saw Mom acting as though all these changes in our lives were things that were just normal stuff that we should be used to even though none of it ever existed before this morning. Why would she go through all that to confuse us?”

“Maybe she’s being manipulated by those doubles we saw after we got back from smashing the pebbles,” said Nissa.

Chacha objected, “But they went away after we fixed the pebbles and the ‘lake’. We don’t have rainbow arms anymore and we aren’t itching either. Didn’t we fix everything?”

“Maybe we didn’t really fix everything,” said Iknow. “Maybe we just looked at the ‘lake’ and decided it was all OK and went back to our trip to the mountain.”

“Meanwhile, our doubles didn’t really go away. They just hid so we would think that everything was fixed and they stopped us from noticing our rainbow arms and the itching also. I think all of it was to set us up for what happened at breakfast this morning,” said Leven more confidently than he felt.

He added after a few more minutes, “Maybe Mom hasn’t changed at all. Maybe it’s us. Maybe we still have rainbow arms and itching and maybe there’s still something broken at the ‘lake’. Maybe everything that we went through this morning was our doubles playing with our minds.”

“What do we do?” Asked Nissa, not hiding the anxiety in her voice. All four of the children were badly shaken.

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