It was Christmas Eve. When I climbed out of bed and glanced out the window sometime in the mid-morning, it was lightly snowing and had been so for a while. A few inches were slowly filling the yard, covering the tire tracks from my father’s car and the footprints from my wanderings the day before. The smell of something suspiciously like bacon emanated from the kitchen, and I curled my cold toes against the wooden floor of the bedroom, allowing myself one more moment of silence before taking a cheery yellow coffee mug from my shelf and wandering downstairs.
It seemed I was the last occupant of the house to rise; Sam was blearily texting with one hand while sipping coffee with the other, my mother was talking brightly to my father, who was frying some bacon in his chef apron. The oven was on too; on closer inspection, some blueberry muffins were busily rising. I poured myself a cup of coffee, added a healthy amount of milk and a pinch of sugar. Only until after the cup was almost half empty did I say anything more substantial than: “Good morning,” to any of the members of my family.
Over breakfast, my mother breezily mentioned, while buttering a muffin, that she had seen a strange man outside the house that morning. A piece of bacon I was holding froze, halfway to my mouth, as my heart leapt to my throat. “What did he look like?” I asked, almost afraid of the answer.
She laughed, but it was the sort of nervous laugh that popped out when laughing wasn’t appropriate but you weren’t sure what was. “He looked like he was going to a Renaissance faire! Certainly not the type we usually get here in our little town, eh?”
She glanced across the table at my father as she said this, and he looked up from his coffee to respond. “He was very strangely dressed,” he agreed. “What color was it again? Green?”
“Red,” my mother said, flicking idly through a stray magazine. As soon as she said this, my heart, which had been beating so fast before, stopped. “That’s funny,” I heard myself say. “Maybe he was supposed to be Santa Claus or something.”
My mother laughed again, but it was less nervous this time and more like I had made some sort of fantastic joke. I took a sip of coffee to hide my roiling emotions. The man in red was here. And he knew where I lived. How did he know where I lived? How did he know? Had he followed me? Did he search every house in town? What did he want with the stone? What was the stone? What were the dreams? No, I told myself. Calm down. He’s just a crazy old man.
It was my day for trash duty, and that was how the man in red found me, around one-thirty that afternoon, hefting an overly full trash bag into the dumpster outside. I didn’t notice him at first, but when I closed the dumpster and turned around to go back inside, there he was, not a foot from me, sneering, his beady black eyes boring holes into me. I shrieked and jumped backwards, knocking into the dumpster and so gracefully crashing into the ground.
“My apologies,” I said, coolly, as I scrambled to my feet. “You scared me, I didn’t know you were there.”
The man looked unconvinced, one white eyebrow climbing up his face and then the other, soon following. He gave me a glare to curdle milk. “You lied to me,” he said, venomous.
“I’m sorry?” I said, feigning innocence. “I don’t believe I know you.”
He bared his teeth at me and I was very unsettled to discover that each one was a sharpened point. “You have the egg,” he growled, lunging for me. “Give it to me!”
I tried to move backward, but I was already touching the dumpster and couldn’t go any further. With cackling glee, his hand latched into one of the folds of my orange cardigan, pulling me forward. I yelled as loud as I could and kicked him. A loud, resounding crack! told me I had struck my mark, square in the knee. He dropped me with a howl and a curse and I fell to the ground once more, crawling to the side and away. Behind me there was the sound of a door opening, shouting. The man rushed towards me but I stumbled to my feet and sprinted away, towards the house. Instantly, it was as if an invisible being was pulling me. I took another step, but was forced to watch my own feet moving backward. There was a cackling from behind me as I was ripped towards the old man. “Let me go, you monster!” I shrieked, but I was dragged backwards even more.
“You can’t get away!” said the old man, in a low and venemous tone. Before I was pulled into him I glanced forward, towards the house, helplessly, and saw my brother in the front window. He met my eyes for an instant and then threw open the wooden door. “Ivy!” He was running towards me, and I noticed, strangely enough, that he was wearing purple socks. “Ivy!” he shouted again, and his being there had changed something, because suddenly I was let go, the invisible force loosening its grip. I was launched forward towards the front door, colliding with him and grabbing his arm. We stumbled, as one great clumsy force, back into the house. I slammed the door with a resounding CRASH! and slid the three bolts into place, breathing heavily and sinking onto the ground.
“Ives,” my brother asked, quietly. “Who the hell was that?”
“I have no idea,” I replied, and most of it was truth. He glanced at me, eyes daggers, as if daring me to challenge the lie, but I didn’t. One of the Whitehall traits: we are very good liars. Another one of the Whitehall traits: we can’t lie to one another.
He sighed, finally, walking back into the kitchen. For a moment, I wondered why neither of my parents had heard the commotion, but I soon discovered that my mother was baking some kind of bread with an indie pop song blaring. With the electric beater going as well as the loud music, there was no way she could have heard what was going on outside.
I grabbed one of the cats and retreated up the carpeted stairs. There, I meant to shut my bedroom door, sink down on the floor, and silently ponder all my life’s mistakes.
Okay, so maybe I was in a bad mood.
In fact, I was somewhere between seething and terrified. Dad was sitting in the upstairs office typing away at something and he turned to say hello when he heard my footsteps, but I marched right by him and up the last set of stairs to my bedroom. The cat in my arms, it was Dorothea, I noticed, began to hiss and claw at me. I set her down, questioning, and she bolted down the stairs and away, back arched and spitting. I didn’t think much of it until I pushed my bedroom door open and saw the man in red, standing in the middle of my handsome wooden floor, holding a knife to my brother’s throat.
My first instinct was to scream, as loud as I possibly could, but even that didn’t last. My mouth had only been open a second before the old man raised a hand and suddenly I the room fell silent. I was still screaming, I knew that I was, but all that I heard was the buzz of the heater in the background. He cocked an eyebrow at me. “Loud enough for you?” I began to form a reply, but when I spoke it was like I was mouthing the words. I tried again, louder, but nothing. The man sighed, and it was suddenly like he was transformed into a doddering old man. All I wanted to do was to trust him, despite my best intentions. “Goodness me... I forgot to take the spell off of you. If you promise not to alert your idiotic parents, can I let you speak?”
I saw no other option, so I nodded, and he waved a hand. When I next tried my voice, I was relieved to see that I could hear it again. “If you don’t follow my every order, I will slit your brother’s throat.” the old man said.
“Okay,” I said.
“Close the door.”
“Now, where to begin?” He gave me a seditious smile. “Suffice it to say, Ivy Jeanette Whitehall, you do not matter. That egg was not meant for you.” He drew out the last word, lip curling in a snarl. “However, since it is currently in your possession, I have no choice.” All of a sudden, he wrenched the knife from Sam’s throat and thrust him towards me. He scrambled behind me and made for the door, but the man in red thrust his hands together and the door locked. Sam wrenched the doorknob, he shouted to me. “It’s locked, Ives! We’re trapped!” When I turned back towards the old man, he was spinning the dagger with one hand, pacing the room with angry steps. “He’s the one that matters. He’s the Fateturner. He’s the one I need to watch. But you’re the one that has the egg!” The voice of the old man had been rising, but suddenly he ceased in his pacing, turning on one heel towards me. His black eyes glinted. “What am I to do, Ivy?” he asked, quietly, voice full of menace.
“Who are you?” I asked, shielding my brother with one arm. The man seemed to consider this for a moment. He tapped the flat of the blade to his jawbone, eyes unfocused. Then, suddenly, he began to smile. “Who am I, Ivy Whitehall?” Suddenly, he rushed towards me, steps too fast to be those of an old man. I jerked backward, knocking into the door. There was an angry metallic glint as I saw the knife he was holding. When he put it to my neck, there was a sharp line of pain. He smiled down at me.
“I’m your killer.”
I opened my eyes. It took me a moment to adjust, but when I did I realized that I was staring at a wood-paneled ceiling. It was like one of those old buildings in London, with the open beams to support an aged roof. It was some color of light wood I hadn’t seen before, and I was about to examine it further when a voice exclaimed: “Oh! You’re awake!” and something tightened over my hand.
When I made an effort to sit up, my head throbbed. I realized that I was lying in a white-sheeted bed. There was a large window in front of me, white curtains covering the view but not filtering out warm light. A chair had been pulled next to the bed, and in it was sitting none other than blonde Peter Pan, our hands interlocked. He smiled at me and his gaze was light. I removed my hand from his quickly, and pretended not to notice the pained expression that flashed across his features. “Am I dead?” I asked, voice scratchy. I ran a finger across my throat, memories of the red man’s knife. In place, there was a thin scar. I traced it with one index finger.
Peter Pan smirked. “Technically, yes. However, darling, you’re an exception. You’ll be gone in a moment, so just remember this. You’ll be dead for good if you don’t change things. Convince yourself to do it differently.”
“What in god’s name are you talking about, blondie?” I asked.
The blonde let out an explosive sigh, leaning towards me. “I don’t know how this works, truthfully. That’s how you explained it to me, later.”
“So are you,” he said, showing me a flash of white. “And my name’s Storm, darling. I’ll see you soon.”
He faded away and when I blinked, I was suddenly back at home, standing in front of my closed bedroom door. There were voices from inside, I heard a boy’s shout cut off. What the hell is going on? It appeared that I would call a dream expert. I turned around, but something drew my attention back to the door behind me. When I tried the doorknob, it opened easily, though it had stuck my entire life. I peeked inside to see a familiar scene. The man in red, wrestling a knife to Sam’s throat. But where was I? The room was empty except for the two figures.
There was a gasp from behind me. I closed the door hurriedly and turned around, and oh, there I was. Standing on the top step, there I was. When I hurriedly looked at my own clothing, I noticed that the Ivy in front of me was wearing the same thing I was, down to the pajama pants and mismatched socks. I noticed, absurdly, that I (we?) were wearing a red sock on the left foot and one patterned with pandas on the right.
“Am I dreaming?” the other me asked, and I began to laugh. One, because that was something only I would say. Two, because I finally saw how dumb it looked when I asked it. “It’s a completely legitimate question!” Other Me complained when she saw me.
“Honestly, I’m not even sure any more.” I replied, completely truthful. “But that doesn’t matter right now.” I leaned towards the other version of me on the stairs. “I don’t know how this works either, but I know you need to listen to every word I say or you and I will both be dead in five minutes.”
Ivy’s eyes widened, and she nodded in a way I knew I had before. I pondered how to begin, for a split second. “Long story short, I’m you after going in there. I died, and now I’m back to tell you, us, how to survive. You need to get in there right now or else this will all go wrong.” Ivy’s eyes were bigger than saucers by then but she didn’t argue. “The red man has our brother,” I continued. “He’s holding a knife to Sam’s throat. When I went in there, exactly as you were doing, I began to scream but he silenced it, somehow.”
“What the hell?” Ivy exclaimed. “Like a mute button?”
I threw my hands up. “I have no idea, I told you! But keep your voice down, he’ll hear.” The other me nodded, not saying anything else. I continued. “Like I was saying, he silenced my voice somehow. Then, when I was allowed to speak, he told me to lock the door. He let my brother go and thrust him towards me. He was yelling that Sam was the important one, I was useless but somehow I had found the egg.”
“The egg? What egg?” Other Me asked, her brow furrowing in confusion.
“Just let me finish!” I said, urgently. “He asked me what he should do. I told him that he should tell me his name. Then, he lunged at me with a knife and cut my throat. I died! I died five minutes ago and now I’m back! Somehow, I’m back and you have to change things!”
Other me was, strangely, calm. She twirled one of her braids. “What do you suggest I do? she asked, face slipping from emotion and back into the analytical one I remembered from too many debate classes.
“I don’t know. It could happen the same way, I don’t know how this works. At least now you know what’s coming. All I can give you is a chance.”
Ivy looked at me, my green grey eyes shining from a different face. “What’s going on?” she asked, quietly.
“Get in there and change the future, Ivy,” I replied, stepping out of the way. Other Me took a step forward, letting her hand linger on the doorknob for an instant. She took a deep breath, turning around to meet eyes with me. Then she opened the door and went inside the bedroom.
My mother was a thrift-shop’s favorite kind of customer. She salvaged anything and everything she could, turning our house into an amalgam of periods and colors. When we had redone my room a few years back, she had found what she claimed to be “the perfect addition:” a pale yellow wooden door dating back to the 1800s. Where she had gotten it I never asked, and I hadn’t thought much of it until now. Aside from the fact it stuck in too much humidity and squeaked perpetually, it also had a large keyhole above the polished brass doorknob. When I bent down to peer through it, I found I could see much of my bedroom in perfect clarity.
The other me I had just spoken to was standing, defiantly, in the middle of the room. The man in red was bent with the knife to my brother’s throat, but a strange look flashed across his face. “You are not afraid…” he mused. “Why are you not afraid? I could kill your brother with a flick of my wrist."
It seemed dear Ivy had listened to my advice. She stood him down, arms crossed. “What was it you said?” she asked, pretending to muse. I knew the technique. I had employed this graceful poise, this battle of words, with many a tasteless ex or asshole coworker. Perhaps that was why I didn’t have any friends. Other Me continued: “You said that Sam was the useful one and that I was the one you should be killing.”
For the first time, I saw a look of genuine surprise cross the old man’s features. Ivy took a step forward, eyes flashing. “You could just kill me right now, except that I have the egg. And where did I put it?”
I smiled in a wicked sort of way from behind the door. Of course she was bluffing. I didn’t know squat about the egg, and neither did the other me, except for the fact that it was important to the old man. In reality, it was just sitting on my windowsill. But if the old man was daft enough not to have seen it, well, I wasn’t going to be the one to tell him.
He suddenly jerked my brother to the floor and I watched as Sam scrambled into a corner. The old man rushed towards the other me, knife drawn.. She backed up quickly and grabbed a heavy book sitting on the desk chair, my battered hardcover biography of Henri Cartier-Bresson. When he thrust the knife towards her, I cringed, but she inexplicably managed to block it with the book and he growled. She spun away, but the desk chair was in her path and she tripped, tumbling, tumbling, tumbling down to the floor. The man stooped over her, silver knife glinting, when suddenly there was a blinding flash and a CRACK and someone else appeared in my bedroom. This gave the other me just enough time to scramble underneath the desk.
Enveloped in a grey cape, the newcomer was wielding an elegant sword, He flipped it, almost lazily, in one hand. The old man spat at him, saying something I didn’t catch. He tossed the knife lazily on the floor and drew his own sword, the one I had seen buckled to his hip that day in the woods. The newcomer flipped his sword once more and began to laugh as the old man swung a blow at him. He parried easily, pressing forward to return the blow. Suddenly, I heard footsteps from behind me and I turned around to see my parents striding towards me. “Ivy!” asked my mother. “What was that horrific noise?”
I was about to reply when a booming voice rang out above me. It seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. TIME HAS BEEN CORRECTED. I turned around, away from the insistent and questioning looks of my parents, looking through the keyhole once more. The two warriors had stopped fighting. The old man’s eyes grew dark and a scowl dominated his entire features. He growled something I couldn’t hear and glanced over at the other me, whom I could see sitting under the battered wooden desk. She glanced at him, eyes harsh and then confused as she vanished into thin air.
The old man cursed under his breath and then, in one swift motion, crossed the room to Sam. He was sitting in the corner, motionless, and doing a good job of escaping notice. When he saw the old man advancing on him, he stood. Everything moved in slow motion as I wrenched the door open and burst into the room, a wordless scream at my lips as the old man ran my brother through with the sword he’d been carrying. Sam’s eyes went wide, and then it was over. The old man pulled his sword out, wiped it on my bedsheets. He turned towards me and a malicious grin lit up his face as he vanished into thin air. I ran over to my brother, and dimly registered my parents pushing me out of the way, my father cradling Sam in his arms, my mother screaming at me to call an ambulance. I sank to the floor. Tears were flowing down my face, the sneaky ones, where you don’t realize you’re crying until your cheeks are stained.
Sirens wailed outside. My parents, voices choked, bundled my brother from the room. I could see his ashen skin, the vacant and glassy stare in his open eyes. He was gone. After a moment, the room was empty. It seemed that in all the chaos, my parents had forgotten about me. A little helpless wail escaped my mouth. What the hell is happening to me? Through it all, the grey cloaked figure stood stoic in the opposite corner. I turned towards him, taking him in, the shadowed figure. He walked towards me and I backed away. “Leave me be, just go,” I pleaded, and my voice was shaky. He seemed like one more enemy until he yanked the hood off with one lazy hand. Unkempt white-blond hair, blue eyes. This time, the cocky grin was gone and in its place was just a small, sympathetic twist of the mouth.
Of course it had to be Storm.
“I think this is yours,” he said, offering me the stone. When I raised my eyebrows, an unspoken question, he just shook his head and pressed it into my hand. When I took it, the tiny green rock thrummed with warmth. He turned away and examined the plant in my window. “Not long now,” I heard him say.
“Until what?” I asked. He opened his mouth to say something, but I never did get to hear it because the ground began to rush towards me at an alarming rate and I blacked out.