To get you started on your journey into The Other Realms, I’ve included the entire first chapter here for free. I hope you like it and will want to read more about Ally and meet her soon-to-be, new best friend, Lucy.
You, dear reader, have greater strength within you
than you can possibly imagine.
Hidden within your doubts and fears
are powers far beyond human.
You hold in your hands the book
that will unlock those powers.
Magickal powers you will use to save your loved ones…
save yourself…save the world.
Those were the only words on the page.
Ally stared at it where it lay on the floor under the train seat in front of her. She glanced around the empty train car before she reached down and picked up the page.
The words were written in a fancy script that made them seem more like a regal command than plain text. She flipped the loose page over. The back was blank, and she realized the page was vellum, made from calfskin rather than paper.
As she rubbed it between her fingers, Ally felt and shared its loneliness. She knew what it felt like to be ripped out of her own book.
Stop being weird, she chided herself.
The book that had held it must have been ancient since no one had made books with vellum for more than a hundred years. Now, bookmakers opted for the cheaper, easier, and more humane use of paper, killing trees rather than cows.
The trees don’t think it’s more humane, Ally thought.
The page was thick and heavy in her hand, carrying more weight than she thought it should have. On the left side, a jagged edge recalled the history of being ripped mercilessly from its book, its family.
The train blew its whistle as it rounded a bend in the tracks. It shook side to side, jostling Ally’s blond ponytail into her face for a moment. The turn pulled her attention out the window and away from the page for a moment as she realized she was almost to Ouverture. Even as she looked over the increasingly rocky terrain that led to the Atlantic Ocean, her thumb kept rubbing circles into the page.
This was the last of four trains she had taken to get from New York to Ouverture. Or, as she thought of it, just beyond nowhere. She had been on trains and in stations for the better part of a day, having left after the last of her fifth-grade classes let out early yesterday. On the train before this one, a bed that folded down from the wall had cradled her restless sleep. Now she was awake and on the Canadian side of the border, her passport tucked safely away again, almost to her destination.
Thoughts of books pulled her into memories of the school year that had just ended. Her mind fumbled around the edges of the social studies semester exam that was harder than she’d expected. She flitted past the English grammar and math exams, both easier than she had worried about, wondering again if she’d actually learned anything in fifth grade. She thought about other kids who would be starting middle school in sixth grade. Starting with a new school and new friends, new experiences. The thought dissolved under the weight of knowing that she’d be going back to the same private school with the same fifty-seven students she had already known for years. Sure, there would be five or ten new students, but they’d all be five-year-olds.
The page between her fingers pulled her attention back. In the bottom left corner, a symbol was embossed on the vellum. She ran her fingertips over it and caressed the indentations. The pattern was a thin circle surrounding a star. Ally thought it was a Star of David, one with six points, but her subconscious nagged her until she counted the points and found seven. Each point rested on the circle, and the small triangles formed by the crossing lines were filled with black ink. In the center of the star, a semi-circle overlapped part of the inner circle, creating a fat crescent moon facing left.
Ally examined the page, flipping it between her fingers, which seemed even thinner and paler than usual against the rich vellum. She peered under the seat in front of her where she had found it. The seats on the train sat far apart, so she had lots of room for her legs to squirm. That also made it easy to see everything under the seat. The dark gray carpet held brush lines revealing a recent vacuuming, but no book or other pages. She leaned down to see under the seats further up the aisle. The rest of the floor was clean and empty.
Ally sat up straight again and glanced around the train car. In front of her were three rows, two seats on each side, every one of them empty. She twisted toward the back. As she turned back around, she saw an old woman sitting across from her. Ally didn’t remember seeing the woman come into the train car at all, let alone sit so close to her.
I must have been too into my book, she thought. She turned toward the paperback sitting on the empty seat next to her, but the four lines on the vellum page recaptured her attention. Ally read the words again as sunlight streamed in through the windows, refracted, and split into a rainbow. The purple end of the rainbow landed on the words, shimmering over each letter. All the other colors shifted out, letting the violet end of the spectrum dance along the words. Ally blinked, and the sun went behind a cloud, blotting out the purple light on the page.
“What do you have there?” the old woman across the aisle asked.
Ally looked up, surprised. She held the page out for the old woman to take.
“Yes,” the old woman said in a wavering voice, “let’s take a look at this, shall we?”
The woman lifted a liver-spotted hand to the glasses that hung on a chain around her neck. The glasses trembled as she lifted them to her face and rested them below a mane of pure white hair.
Ally raised the page higher for the old woman to take, but instead of grabbing it, the woman only leaned over to read the words.
“Hmm,” the woman said. “You’ve found a page from a good book. A very good book, indeed. Perhaps you’ll find the rest of the book.” The woman scanned the page again. She looked back up at Ally. “You have quite an adventure ahead of yourself, young lady.”
Ally cocked her head. “What do you mean? It’s just a page from some fantasy book, right?”
“Is it?” the woman replied with a knowing smile.
Ally squinted, unsure what kind of practical joke she had slipped into. She turned the page over again, hoping an explanation had appeared on the back. It was still blank. “What do you mean, an ‘adventure?’” she asked, looking up into the woman’s eyes. Against the backdrop of white hair and spotted, wrinkled skin, the woman’s eyes were bright and penetrating.
“Hmm…” the woman mused, ignoring Ally’s question. “‘Powers beyond human.’ Sounds like you’re going to get a magickal power soon.”
Ally frowned at the old woman. Yep, this poor old lady has gone senile.
“Tell me, dear,” the woman continued, putting a hand on Ally’s arm, “what kind of power do you think you’ll get? What would you want?”
The woman’s touch was so light that Ally barely realized she’d made contact at all, but the impact was immediate. Ally winced as the gravity of memory yanked her from the train.
Ally’s eyes snapped shut and wind smacked her face. She felt her ponytail whipping behind her, lashing her shoulders. She opened her eyes and saw the train shaking forward along the track below her.
Panic overcame her and she whipped her head to the side. She swerved to the left, flying over the train. Fear snapped her head back to the right and she zipped through the air far to the right of the train.
As she tilted her head down and to the left, her body followed, swooping through the air in a power dive. She lifted her head and leveled out, flying alongside the train.
Ally turned her head toward the train to look inside and nearly collided with it. She snapped her attention to the front and swerved away from the train, flying straight ahead once more. She focused her thoughts on flying forward and tried again, slowly turning her head to peer through the window. Inside the train, she saw her own body slumped backward in her seat on the far side of the train, her eyes shut tight. Movement drew Ally’s attention. She refocused on the seats closer to the window and found the old woman waving at her.
I need to go…fast. The thought came unbidden, but she knew it had come from somewhere deep within her. From within her soul. Or perhaps her past.
The thought registered in her mind and she shot forward. She was racing through the air alongside the tracks, the train now far behind her. She concentrated and sped even faster, the wooden planks of the train tracks blurring into an unbroken thread of speed. The landscape of grass and trees blurred into patches of browns and greens as she sped faster.
Then, it was over. She came to a stop instantly with no dizziness from the sudden deceleration. She looked around and found herself hovering above a street lined with trees. After a moment, her new reality dawned on her.
I’m back in New York, she realized. Wait…I know this street. This is where…
A deep instinct took over, and she was flying again. She zipped between trees, parked cars, and pedestrians, five feet above the sidewalk. The bookstore she was looking for came into view on her left, and she stopped in midair.
If I’m where I think I am…if I’m when I think I am…
Even as she wondered if this was the event, the door to the bookstore opened. A beautiful woman with long blond hair walked out carrying a small package and a broad smile.
This is it!
Ally knew she had to scoop the woman up off the sidewalk and out of danger. The woman couldn’t see the danger yet, but Ally knew all too well how close it was.
Ally tried to fly toward the woman but couldn’t move. She imagined the super-speed she had used to get here, forcing thought into reality, but still, she couldn’t move. The air held her tight. She examined the woman and realized that time around her had slowed. It wasn’t the air holding her in place, but time. The woman was still exiting the store, but in slow motion, moving forward one agonizing millimeter at a time.
She had to try something else. Ally imagined her muscles were a hundred times stronger than normal. She tried to force her way out of the invisible chains holding her. When she still couldn’t move, Ally imagined she could simply ignore the space between the two locations. Time and space held fast. She realized that if she couldn’t move from this spot to save the woman, maybe she could change herself to a form that could. She imagined herself as a tiny hummingbird zipping forward, out of the invisible cage, but nothing happened. She imagined time bending around her, letting her pass. Nothing.
Ally blinked, and she was in the countryside again, surrounded by open fields of green grass. And gravestones. And a coffin being lowered into the ground.
She was hovering above two figures dressed in black. The man was in his thirties, but the pain of losing half of his world carved another decade into his features. Next to the man stood a blond-haired girl of seven years, looking very lost.
No! Ally’s mind screamed.
The little girl stepped forward and dropped a flower into the grave, whispering, “Goodbye, Mommy.”
The wind snapped around the little girl, catching the flower as it floated down into the hole in the ground, making it hover in the air like Ally for a moment.
Then the wind swept upward, past the little girl and into the sky where Ally was hovering. The flower dropped, flattened against the top of the wooden casket.
The wind lifted the girl’s attention, and her gaze fell on Ally, their eyes meeting. Ally stared into eyes brimming with pain, loss, and a question: “Why didn’t you stop this?”
The wind rushed past Ally with increasing ferocity. She fought against it, trying to hover, to stay here with the little girl. But the wind was too strong, and it flung her away into the air.
She landed with a thud against the back of the train seat, feeling the sting of slamming into the metal pole and hard plastic behind the cushion. She took a moment to consider the painful landing, given that her body hadn’t moved from the seat. The return of her mind, or soul, or past, or whatever had left her, slammed hard back into her body.
She leaned forward and tried to reach around to rub her back, but the vellum page in her hand stopped her.
“So, you’re back then?”
The quavering voice intruded from somewhere far away, and it took Ally several seconds to make sense of the words.
“Huh? Oh, uh, yeah. I, uh…I was…” Ally pointed out the window as words failed her.
“Oh yes, I know, dear. But the important thing is that you’re back here now.”
“But I…it was all so…real.” She choked back a sob. “Even after four years, it’s still so…” She couldn’t finish and looked up at the old woman for help.
The old woman smiled at her and Ally realized that the woman’s hands were once again clasped together in her lap. Ally eyed them warily.
“So,” the woman continued, “you were going to tell me what magickal powers you’d want to get.”
Ally stared at the old woman for a moment, thrown off by the casual way she’d asked the question. Slowly, she gathered her thoughts. “Oh, I don’t know.” Thinking back to her journey, she said, “Maybe flying?” If she’d been able to fly back then, maybe she could have saved Mom. Tears threatened her eyes.
“Oh my,” the old woman said, snapping Ally back into the moment. The woman drew thin fingers up to her mouth. “That’s a pretty advanced power, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Ally shrugged. Part of her mind believed she really had been flying just moments before, and so the rejection of this as her power didn’t make sense. “Okay, how about something smaller like…” Her mother’s face floated in memory. “Super-healing?”
“Well, if it’s your first magickal power…” the woman said with a hard edge to end of the second syllable. “Perhaps you should start with something better suited for your…inexperience.”
“Oh, okay. How about…I don’t know, creating fire? Or talking to animals? Do you think that would be easy enough?” Ally smiled at the old woman. She was so sweet. Ally wished she had a grandmother like her.
“Hmm,” the old woman said. “Yes, I think that is a good one for someone like you. After all, you already talk to the animals, don’t you?”
Ally forced a smile and the woman returned her own. Ally wondered if she was humoring the old woman’s delusions. Then she wondered if the woman was doing the same with her. The two wobbled in their seats as the train shook side to side, slowing down.
“But,” the woman continued, “I think you should start with improving your normal senses before you move on to those other abilities. Then, if you’re strong, at the end of it all, you’ll learn of your true self.” With that, she gave a quick nod, signaling the conversation was over. She faced front, humming a song to herself as the train slowed into the station.
This is so sad, Ally thought. This poor woman really believes this page is magic because someone ripped it out of an old book. She twirled her thumb and finger around the vellum page, appreciating its texture and weight.
But what about flying and seeing Mom?
The woman’s obviously crazy, Ally’s mind argued.
But the woman seemed so sure of it. Of the page and its prophecy. Of herself. Maybe she wasn’t senile after all. Maybe…
Ally’s thoughts raced with possibility and a sudden, long-lost hope. “Wait,” she blurted, louder than intended. “What do you mean? What makes you think I’m going to get…superpowers? I mean, anyone could have found this page, right?”
“Ah…” The old woman smiled, holding a finger in the air. “But the page found you.” She pushed her crooked finger through the air toward Ally’s shoulder.
Ally watched the finger descend slowly toward her. She didn’t feel the woman’s finger land on her sweater as a gust of wind swept her out of the train and into the past.
Ally was standing in her old living room, the one she grew up in. She looked around, memory flooding over her. There was the old kitchen table, and the tall windows overlooking the street below. Turning, she saw the fireplace and pictures on the mantel. In the center was a canvas print of Ally and her parents from a much happier time. Ally stared at the photo for a long time, noticing how the subtle details of her mother’s dress and her father’s jacket were different than she remembered.
“You know, Allyson…”
The voice from behind Ally startled her, but as the musical sound drizzled over her, she bathed in its warm familiarity.
Turning around, she found her mother standing behind her in the doorway to the kitchen. She was wearing the white apron she always wore to bake cookies.
“There are magickal numbers. Like seven. And eleven. And when a person is the age of one of those numbers, their life can be magickal, too.”
Her mother paused, smiling at her. Ally scanned the room as her mind raced. She could see every detail of the furniture and pictures. They were close to how she remembered them. She felt the cool air of the apartment and smelled Mom’s soup cooking on the stove.
What was this? It seemed so real. Was Mom really here? Could she…
Ally tried to move forward to touch her mother, to dispel the disbelief of this reality, but fear of proving this was nothing but memory or imagination held her in place.
“So,” her mother continued, “next year, you’ll be a magickal number. You’ll be seven.”
Ally was ripped from her own body, shifting to the side. She looked down and saw herself at age six. She watched her younger mouth move and heard a soft, unfamiliar voice ask, “Does that mean it will be a magical year for me?”
“Yes, magickal with a ‘k,’” her mother confirmed
“With a ‘k?’ What’s the difference?”
“Ah, that’s an excellent question.” Her mother smiled. “Magic without a ‘k’ is just a trick. An illusion. Real magick, the kind of magick you’ll have, is always spelled with a ‘k.’”
“I’ll have real magick?”
“Of course, you will. When you turn eleven.” Sadness tinted her smile. “I’m sure it will be a year you’ll never forget.” She reached out and drew a hand gently along the side of younger Ally’s head, smoothing her blond hair. The older Ally felt the warm, soft touch of her mother’s hand caress her own hair.
“And after that, in just four more years, you’ll be eleven. And that will be the most special year of all.”
From somewhere in another world, a door slammed shut. The noise and surprise of it tugged at Ally, pulling her out of the living room and out of her old life. She landed with a thud in the train.
Quick footsteps pounding on the thin carpet from behind Ally echoed throughout the train. Ally sensed the man approaching, thickening the air like an impending storm. She turned to look over her shoulder, but her head only moved far enough to see a huge, dirty hand reaching toward her.
Ally flinched from the creepy man, but his hand landed on her shoulder, shooting an electric shock deep into her body. Her muscles locked in place, unwilling to move. With her head turned to the side and frozen by surprise and fear, she saw flashes of purple and orange light. Violet glimmers chased jolts of orange electric shock jumping through her shoulder. The purple pulsed and brightened briefly, but then faded away into orange.
“Mordrew,” the old woman hissed.
Another flash filled the right half of Ally’s vision. This one came from farther away, from the other side of the aisle. It spanned every color and included several Ally couldn’t name.
The rainbow burst and the man standing behind Ally grunted as if he’d been punched in the stomach. The color lights disappeared, and the electric shock in Ally’s shoulder faded to memory.
The man said something as he rushed up the aisle away from the two of them. It was more a growl than words, and Ally wasn’t sure if it was meant for her or the old woman.
Ally’s neck unlocked, and she swiveled her head to follow the man as he reached the door at the front of the car. She could tell from his back the man was enormous. He wore a broad, full-length black coat and stood hunched over, protecting his head from the low ceiling of the train. The hood fell over his face, shadowing his features. Then the smell hit her, carried along on the wind the man had made moving up the aisle. Ally thought of the dumpsters in the alleyway behind her favorite Chinatown restaurant. The stench pushed itself into her nose and eyes and pores. It filled and oozed back out of her.
The man grabbed the handle of the door at the front of the train car. He pulled the door open but hesitated, turning to glare over his shoulder. Ally got a glimpse of the man’s profile and a yellow eye glowing under the hood. Then he stepped through the door and into the next car, the door slamming shut behind him.
The stench faded, pulled out of the train car with the man, replaced with the clean ocean scent drifting through the window. Ally turned back to the old woman. “What just happened?” she asked in a voice barely above a whisper.
“Oh, nothing, dear,” the old woman assured her. “Just a very rude passenger.” The woman pulled herself to her feet using the seat in front of her.
Ally’s heart pounded and she panted as sweat dribbled down the back of her neck. She gaped at the woman, her mind racing to figure out what had just happened and what a “Mordrew” was.
A man’s voice over the speaker startled Ally as it said, “This is Porte de la Vérité station. End of the line.”
“Well,” the woman said, clasping her hands together, “this is our stop.”
The old woman was silent for a moment as the train rumbled to a stop, its brakes squealing softly. She turned and stared for a moment, waiting as Ally’s pulse and breathing returned to normal. “Well,” the woman said, “don’t just sit there. Let’s get off this train before they ship us all back to where we came from.”
Wait. What? Ally looked around the empty train car. All who?
The old woman took a step out into the aisle. She wobbled, her legs buckled, and she fell. The three actions seemed to happen in order, one at a time. The woman’s head was falling toward the metal bar attached to the seat across the aisle. An image of the poor woman hitting her head and crumpling to the ground blurred into Ally’s vision. She was sure the old woman would break a hip. That was what old people did, right?
Ally jumped out of her seat and got between the old woman and the metal bar she was falling toward. Ally thrust her hands out to catch the old woman and braced for the impact, which would push her own spine against the metal seat.
When the woman fell into her, she didn’t push Ally backward even an inch. The woman was so light she made no impact at all.
The woman struggled to her feet as Ally stood dumbstruck, still bracing for the impact that had never come.
Ally released a sigh of relief at having saved the woman from a nasty fall. She helped the woman back to her feet as her mind kicked in. The woman felt like a bird with hollow bones, light enough to fly away. The word “ethereal” came to Ally’s mind. She remembered it from a vocabulary test in school. It meant only partially there. Like a ghost.
“Oh my,” the old woman said sheepishly. “I’m so sorry. It seems I got a little dizzy when I stood up. Thank you for saving me.” She smiled as she emphasized the word. Then the old woman moved so quickly along the aisle that she appeared to hover above the ground, not having to take steps at all. In an instant, she had disappeared out the door of the train.
Ally stood, still nodding, not knowing if she had saved the woman at all. She folded the vellum page and stuffed it into her jeans pocket, hurrying after the bird-woman.
The woman stepped off the train onto the platform and curved to the left. She took several steps before stopping to talk to the conductor greeting the exiting passengers. The conductor was so tall, he dwarfed the small woman standing next to him. But he was also so thin that Ally wondered if he would disappear if he turned sideways. His face was clean-shaven, and his eyebrows were white and so thin they dissolved in the sunlight.
The old woman talked to the conductor, waving her hands dramatically. He looked up and scanned the train station, meeting Ally’s eyes. After a nod of recognition, he returned his attention to the woman.
When he had taken Ally’s ticket two hours earlier, he had startled her as she hovered between awake and asleep, dream and reality. For a moment, she’d been sure she was imagining him. He’d reached out to her to take her ticket with a hand as big as her face, and she’d worried he would take her head as well. But the hand hovered in front of her only a moment before taking the ticket she held up, and then the man had disappeared through the door at the back of the train car.
Ally’s attention was on the bird-woman and the tall man rather than the steps down from the train, and her foot missed the last one. Gravity took over, yanking her face-first toward the wooden platform. She braced for impact but was distracted by the blur of a brightly colored shirt racing in at her. Instead of face-planting onto the platform, she was swept up into a bear hug and spun in two full circles through the open air.
As she was twirled around, she let her body melt into the arms holding her. They were strong arms, radiating warmth and security. She reveled in the familiar strength, noticing a brief ripple of unsteadiness in it.
Another squeeze pushed the air from her lungs before she was set down gently.
“Hi, Dad,” Ally said with a huge grin as she looked into his face.
Her father’s blue eyes sparkled, filled with a joy she knew he had rarely felt in the last four years. He wasn’t wearing his glasses, and his hair was styled up and away from his forehead with gel. He was tall and had always been thin, but he seemed skinnier than she remembered. His face was clean-shaven, free from the dark stubble that typically covered his chin and scratched against her cheek when they hugged. Ally smiled wider as she realized he had done this just for her. He had no one else to shave for.
Even seeing the joy twinkling in his eyes, Ally couldn’t help but notice the hair at his temples was graying. The worry lines on his face were deeper than when she had last seen him nine months ago.
“Ally-bear!” her father exclaimed, and then swept her up in another hug. He set her down, leaving his hands on her shoulders. “Let me look at you. You’ve grown even more this year. I’ve told you to stop doing that, young lady.” He wagged a long finger at her.
Same old routine, Ally thought, laughing despite herself. “Yeah,” she agreed, “can’t help it.”
The familiar warmth smiled on her dad’s face, too.
“Ready to go back to the cottage?”
“Yeah, but first, I have to tell you about…”
She opened her mouth to tell him about the man who had grabbed her shoulder, sending electrical shocks through her, and about flying and seeing her mother. She looked deep into her father’s eyes and felt his fear about her traveling alone. Felt the mild reprimand he’d give her for putting herself in a dangerous situation. And, worst of all, the disbelief that would surely fill his voice when she insisted the visions were real.
“About what?” he asked, snapping Ally back to the moment.
“Uh, I want you to meet this woman I talked to on the train. She’s…interesting.”
Ally turned and pointed to where the old woman was talking to the conductor, but neither the old woman nor the conductor were anywhere to be seen.
Ally’s dad followed her finger, frowning at the empty platform. “What woman?”
Ally turned in a full circle, scanning the large, open area of the station. It had only been a minute. The woman couldn’t have walked out of the station that quickly. She was much too old and frail to move like that.
Ally leaned left and right, peering through the windows of the train cars. “Oh, never mind. I guess she’s gone.”
She cast one more glance around the station as her father gathered up her suitcase. The woman was nowhere to be found, but Ally caught a glimpse of a large black coat swooping out of the side doors of the train station and into the summer sun.