Night Draws In: Chapter 1

“That’s not my sister.” Skye stood, knees locked, elbows straight, fists balled up at her sides, staring at the creature who was starting to stir in her sister’s crib. Her stomach knotted up, making her feel sick. The thing looked exactly like little Angela, but she knew it was not. She tried again to make her parents understand. “That’s NOT my sister!”

“Don’t be silly, Skye. Harmony’s right there.”

“No, Mama!” Skye pointed at it. “That’s not our baby! They stole her! She’s a changeling! Like you said! Remember? I saw them that day we went for a picnic. The day she got sick! I told you that I wished the fairies would take our baby! And you said they should take her to Fairyland. Like in my books. You said that they’ll leave a changeling behind and give us our own baby back when she’s old enough to fight dragons. Then they gave us the changeling, and that’s why she got sick.” Skye sniffed, trying not to cry.

The woman picked up the baby who opened its grass green eyes and cooed contentedly. “No sweetheart. See? She’s fine. Come here and sit with us. I know it was scary when she was in the hospital, but she’s all better now.” She sat down in the rocking chair, holding the quiet, alert baby to herself.

“But they took her! I saw them!” Skye trembled. “They took her and left something in her place!”

“Well, if the fairies took her, then she’s perfectly fine, right? And if they left us a changeling, we should be kind to her.” Her mother smiled, her eyes sparkling with amusement.

“Abbie! You shouldn’t encourage that kind of nonsense!” Her father strode into the room. He hunkered down in front of his daughter to meet her eyes. “Your sister was very sick with an infection. She needed medicine. We’re very lucky she didn’t die. But you didn’t say or do anything to cause it.” He stood up and ran a hand through his short red hair. “You’re too old for this, anyway. You know fairies aren’t real, right?”

“Daddy! They ARE real.” She pushed the glasses on her little nose up. “The fairies took the real baby! That’s not even human!”

“Skye, please.” Her father reached out to take her hands. “I know you’re upset and it’s been a tough week. Please, don’t play these games right now.”

The eight-year-old backed away shaking her head. “I’m NOT! She’s not our baby! I want Angela back! I wish that thing had died!” Her voice rose to a shriek.

“BLUESKYE ANNA LEWIS!” Skye cringed at her father using her full name. “That’s enough! I don’t want to hear anything like that again! You go to your room until you can act like a decent human being!”

Any other time, Skye would have fled her father’s wrath, but she stood her ground, desperate to make them understand. “That’s NOT our BABY!”

Her mother stood up, carefully laid Harmony down in the crib, and faced her elder daughter; her lips compressed into a thin line. “Your father said, that’s enough, Skye.” Her voice was deceptively soft.

“But, Mama!” Skye couldn’t believe they were going to accept this changeling in place of her sister.

“Enough!” Her mother yanked Skye’s wrist, jerking it up so that she could deliver three or four hard slaps to the back of Skye’s shorts. “Get out of my sight.” She let go of Skye’s wrist. “And, for god’s sake start calling your sister by her first name.”

Howling, Skye ran from the room.

“That’s your fault.” Skye’s mother snarled at her father.

“I think Skye’s got a fair point when she says people will make fun of the name. I don’t see what’s wrong with calling her Angela.”

“Oh, it’s boring. It doesn’t suit her.”

The man rolled his eyes. “Well, God forbid we should be boring. Anyway, it’s my mother’s name.”

“Oh, and we have to do everything in our power to please your mother, don’t we?”

The two adults revived old arguments while the elder child sobbed in the other room and the changeling looked on with cool interest.

 

Thirteen years later…

The King and Queen made their stately way to the gate, their golden chariot pulled by a dozen large, fluffy, white-chested cats. Angela rode the chariot behind them, her stomach fluttering. She had waited her whole life to return to her birth parents; to fulfill the bargain her mother made thirteen years ago on a Beltane Eve. It was Samhain night, the traditional time for returns.

Ealdon, the healer, stood at her side, holding the cats’ reins. “You can still recant your mother’s bargain.” He had been saying such things since the winter when they had celebrated Angela’s thirteenth birthday and her coming of age. “You need not be bound by choices your mother made without your knowledge or consent,”

Angela smiled, patted the tall healer’s arm. “My mother did not bargain for selfish ends.” She said, her voice low, in keeping with the solemnity of the occasion. “My mother is a queen or a lady who must look to those under her protection. I would not besmirch the honor of her house. And, if I do not go, the changeling cannot return to bring what she has learned.”

“Most of the Court has not been to the mortal realms since we were brought to this land.” In the moonlight, Ealdon’s sharp features appeared gaunt and haunted. “I was there a hundred years ago. I saw…” He stopped, swallowed. “I saw things more terrible than you can imagine. I cannot imagine it has gotten any better.” Violence of any sort sickened Ealdon; he was a healer, his heart gentle. Even watching fosterlings spar with one another was sometimes too much.

“If the Dark holds sway, all the more reason I am needed.” Nothing he said could dampen her excitement. A half blood, Ealdon didn’t understand the powerful call that drew mortal fosterlings home.

Angela had prepared herself well. She had said her goodbyes to her friends and her foster kin and gave away as gifts what few possessions she owned. In keeping with tradition, only those closest to her accompanied her to the gate.

The chariot ahead of them stopped by the old stone wall, ancient even as the Fae reckoned time. Built by the people who lived here long ago.

The King and Queen alighted from their chariot. Angela hugged Ealdon one last time, pretending not to see the tears on his cheeks. The cats, untethered from their harnesses, stretched and lounged on the ground licking each other and stared at them with their wise feline eyes.

Angela curtsied formally to her foster parents, her throat too tight to speak.

“I will miss you,” her foster father said, in his deep, slow voice. “I am glad to have known you.”

The Queen stepped forward to hug Angela. “Remember who you are. Always. Take no names that do not please you.” She whispered into her ear. She backed up, rested one slim hand on Angela’s face. “I have been very happy to be your mother.” The Queen’s cheeks were wet. With a faint smile, she pulled a lace handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped the tears away. “A mother’s tears are the only gift I can give you, today.” She put the lace square into Angela’s hand. “Take them. They have great power at need.”

Shocked, Angela stared at what she held. She never realized the Queen herself was half-human. More tears; Angela’s this time.

“Go. We will both drown in salt water if this continues.” The Queen used another handkerchief to mop Angela’s face as she did when she was a tiny child.

Tradition demanded that the returning fosterling should open the gate herself. Angela’s hands trembled with excitement (or so she told herself. She had nothing to fear). “Gate I name you. Between the worlds you lead. You open and you close. I call you Gate. Open!” She was no mage. She could not shape a gate, but anyone could call one up.

The gap in the tumbled stone wall remembered its name. With the name, its purpose.

This gate held a subtle magic. One moment the gap opened onto the Queen’s sheep pasture and the next, a green field of cropped grass in the mortal world. In the gap, between the posts, stood an exact duplicate of Angela

The changeling smiled, came forward with her hands held out, her eyes shining with starlight.

Angela held her own hands out, grasped the changeling’s. No words were spoken, but the weight of thirteen years of memory made her knees buckle. Harmony knelt in front of her, still holding her hands. “You must sleep. Sleep will settle the memories. In time, you will sort them out. For now, these are what you need.” A small set of memories appeared in her head. Enough to get her through the sickness and her first days home. The gate to the Fae realm stood close to Angela’s mother’s dwelling. The route, with the knowledge that Abbie slept, and would not notice Angela coming in slid into her mind.

“I am sorry.” Harmony whispered as she helped Angela rise.

“For what?” Angela asked, abruptly aware that they had switched places. She stood with her back to the mortal world. Sturdy breeches, a warm jerkin, and boots had replaced her gossamer court gown. Harmony now wore Angela’s flowing white court silk.

“I…” Harmony trailed off, shook her head. “Don’t worry about it. Go get some sleep. Don’t think too hard about anything and you’ll know what to do.” She hesitated, and then embraced Angela. “Thank you.” The Fae woman whispered.  Then, she broke off the embrace and turned away to bow to King and Queen.

Angela watched all four of the Fae as they greeted each other, her heart hammering in her chest. They did not look at her again. She drew a deep breath and turned towards the back door of her mother’s house. She walked away without looking back, as tradition demanded.

Ealdon was right. The world was very different from what the Fae had known two or three hundred years ago. The few memories that Harmony had forced to the top of her mind told her that. She sought the room Harmony’s memories directed her to and fell into a deep dreamless sleep.

Dawning light dragged her unwillingly awake. “Harmony?” Her mother’s voice called to her, “Come on. We’re late! You can’t miss your flight.”

Flight? Flying? The meaning of her mother’s words drifted into her mind. The image of an enormous, loud metal machine. She, a mortal girl, would be flying today. Moreover, this was commonplace. An intimidating prospect, even for one fed tales of heroic deeds with her wet nurse’s milk. She dressed in her clothes from last night and took her luggage downstairs.

Abbie already had her coat on and keys in her hand. “There you are. Come on let’s go.”

Angela didn’t relish traveling. She wanted to sink back into the warm bed. “I do not feel well. Must I leave today?” The words sounded strange to her ears, felt strange in her mouth. The changeling spell prevented her from having an outland accent.

Abbie rolled her eyes. “Oh, let’s not go through this again. I’m headed to Honduras next week. I need to pack up the rest of the house. You’ll be fine.”

At first, Angela walked in a daze. Harmony’s memories supplied the words and the actions, but they gave her no comfort. They rode in an iron carriage on a road of stone. Abbie talked while she drove. “Well, I’m sure you and your sister will have a great time. I know you guys don’t always get along, but…” Memories bubbled up. Skye had the Sight. She had always known that Harmony wasn’t her sister, even if she’d buried the knowledge.

Following her mother’s speech was difficult. Angela ended up replying in grunts but apparently, her mother thought nothing of the discourtesy. Already, her head hurt and the thin autumn sunlight was too bright.

The second-hand memories allowed her to follow along with Abbie, as they parked the car, and walked into the cavernous building. They gave her luggage to someone, and then Abbie walked her to a gateway guarded by people in uniform.

“Well. This is it, I guess. I’m sorry your father didn’t come, but I suppose he’s busy with his girlfriend.” Abbie’s mouth pursed with disapproval, “They’re packing for Belize.” She made a dismissive gesture with her shoulders; a kind of jerky half-shrug. “Anyway. Call me when you get there. You have your phone?”

“My phone?”

“Yes. Your phone. If you don’t have it, I’m not driving back to Middlebury to get it, you’re just…”

A picture of the object in question emerged in her mind. Angela reached into her pocket, held it up. “Here it is.”

“Oh, good.” Now, Abbie beamed. “Gotta go. Love you, sweetie.” She turned on her heel and walked away, leaving Angela to negotiate the gate where the guards checked everyone for weapons herself.

A woman guard watched the whole interaction. “You okay?” She asked as Angela walked up to her through a little maze-like contrivance.

“Yes.” For a moment she stood bewildered by the portal.

“Put your stuff here.” The woman said kindly, indicating a black platform. “You by yourself?”

“Yes.”

That answer seemed to displease the woman. She pursed her lips and furrowed her brow. “You sure you’re okay?”

Angela nodded and stacked her things where the guard directed (Harmony’s memories told her to include, oddly, her shoes) and stepped through the doorway shaped frame. On the other side, she retrieved her belongings and headed toward a row of chairs.

She sat, her headache blossoming, waiting for her first flight, too sick to even marvel that she was going to fly over half a continent today. She kept her outer coat on to combat the bone-deep feverish chill she felt. She tried not to put too much import on the contrasting ways her mother and her foster mother took leave of her. Not everyone was comfortable with grief.

Finally, she sat in one of the narrow chairs in the metal machine and fell into a deep sleep until the abrupt thud and mechanical growls announced the airplane’s arrival at another airport. Like some undead thing, she staggered along, following the crowds. Harmony’s memories supplied her with all the vital information.

To complete her transition to the human world, Angela needed to eat. Even with Harmony’s memories to guide her, walking into the airport coffee shop required courage equal to approaching a dragon’s den. The menu behind the counter promised a dizzying array of choices. She stood in line behind others and when she came to the front, the man there asked her impatiently what she wanted. She gave him the best smile she had in her, “I’d like the strongest, sweetest thing you have if you please.”

He seemed to think her manner of speech was funny if his grin was anything to go by. Her Fae foster kin had also found Angela a source of fun. Sometimes even when she meant to be. “How about a latte?”

She nodded, worried about the expense. The memories showed her how to use the little card thing, but she had only a vague idea how much invisible currency was in the far off account.

Such thinking was making her head hurt. Of course, her head already hurt, but the numbers made it worse. She reckoned there was enough to pay for a drink and a meal. “And one of those little chocolate cakes,” she added, pointing. There would be no going back after partaking of the human food, so she thought her choice should be sweet. She’d never had chocolate nor coffee before; she had never visited the far cities of Quivira or Paititi where it was common.

The aroma of the chocolate and coffee were as fully intoxicating as she’d been told. Strange that foods originating on almost exactly opposite sides of the planet, both so powerful in their own right, should make such a perfect marriage.

She ate her meal in the corner of the little indoor plaza. The first food she’d ever eaten in the human realm with the knowledge of the finality of the act. Now she’d eaten human food, slept in the human realm, the Fair Realm would not accept her easily. She would have to live through this a second time, and she was not sure she had the courage to live through it even once.

Her stomach, accustomed to magical food, twisted. The human food lay heavily in her gut although the cake was sweet and light in her mouth. She searched urgently around for the privy so she would not disgrace herself by spewing on the floor. A sign with a human figure in a skirt was across the way. The girl bolted for it snatching up her bag.

As it happened, her stomach decided it would accept the strange, heavy food, but it only accelerated the adjustment. Angela peered at the mirrors, which lined the walls and almost did not recognize herself. Her face, sweat streaked and pale as death, stared back at her, wraith-like green eyes wide in alarm marked by dark circles of fatigue and stress.

Angela ran a hand through her waist-length hair; it weighed about a million pounds. She took a band from her bag and tied the mass into a tail. After a second of consideration, she pulled out the tail and with quick fingers wove it into a plait. Without the hair on her neck, she could breathe.

Fostered with the Fae, her human body needed immense amounts of magic to survive in the Blessed Realm, but as she had been merely a baby, she didn’t remember the Sickness. As the magic withdrew from her, her body needed to remember how to live in the mortal world.

Her body remembered its weight. Her bones groaned as the pull of the world seemed to increase. Her muscles created heat with every motion. She would swear she could feel the chemical reactions inside her brain with every thought.

Harmony would be experiencing the Sickness herself. Indeed, Harmony’s first act upon returning to the borders had probably been to sleep and then feast on magical food to bring on the sickness quickly.

Angela swayed on her feet.

Something in her bag started singing and moving about like a live thing. She couldn’t understand what it was for a moment, but then Harmony’s memories supplied her with the answer. She dug around for thing. Drawing it out of her bag, she stared at it, and it stopped. She was about to put it away, but the singing started again. On the little window, there was a green blinking picture. She touched her finger to it. “H-Hello?” She croaked into the phone, holding it in the way Harmony’s memories told her. The device enabled her to speak to people any distance away. Like the airplane, it wasn’t magic, but it might as well be.

“Harmony?” A disembodied voice spoke from the little machine.

“Yes?”

“I’m just calling to check on you. Are you all right?”

It took Angela a minute to place the voice. She had expected it to be Abbie, but rather it was her older sister Skye, to whom she was being sent.

“Fine. I’m fine,” she shouted into the thing; she wasn’t at all sure it would actually work, “I just… I was just going to call you.”

“Okay, good.” Skye sounded annoyed, but it was hard to tell why. “Listen, Martin and I just wanted you to know that we’ll be there when you get to Detroit. You don’t need to worry, okay?”

Actually, Angela hadn’t been worried, but it seemed Skye was. “Thank you, Skye,” she said, as courteously as she could while still trying to keep the weakness from her voice.

An annoyed huff came from the other end of the phone. “Harmony, I swear to god, if you don’t start calling me Anna, I’m going to send you back to Mom.”

“Sorry, Anna.” Her reflection glared at her, mortified.

A sigh. “All right, no problem.” Anna sounded put upon. “Are you okay? You don’t sound good.”

“I’m…” Unable to deny how bad the sickness was getting, Angela muttered, “My head hurts. I have a sore throat.” She didn’t tell Anna that she was beginning to shiver in the warm room again or about the unhealthy flush suffusing the cheeks of the girl in the mirror.

“Well, that’s all right,” Anna said, her voice becoming kinder. “You’ll be here soon. Why don’t you see if you can find some Tylenol?”

“That will help my headache?” She filed the word away in her head to ask someone for some later. The memories supplied the meaning to the unfamiliar name.

“Yes. That will help the headache. Look. I have to go. We’ll see you in Detroit, Okay?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

“Bye.” Anna hung up, and Angela took one last look at the scared, sick girl in the mirror. She reminded herself again, of what she was, washed her face and squared her shoulders to be ready to meet her task.

She asked one of the many uniformed people to direct her to the place marked on the boarding pass. She sat with her eyes closed until they told her the flight was boarding. Once she found her seat, she gratefully shut them, blocking out the painful light. She put her bag on her lap and hugged herself involuntarily, chilled to the bone.

“Miss?” A voice asked her, sounding strange against the roar of the craft, “Are you all right?”

Angela squinted up through bleary eyes, racking her mind for the proper way to summon aid in this place, a moment before the sickness truly took her. Her eyes rolled up into her head, and she fell to the side, shaking and twitching.

The world became a confused chaos of pain and fever dream. As her body shed the magic that made it possible for her to live in the Twilight Realm, it began to attack the remaining Fae magic as though it were an earthly virus.

Dimly, she sensed people moving away from her for fear she carried some contagion. The cleared seats were arranged so that she might stretch out, and one brave man who identified himself as some variety of healer came to sit with her. He repeatedly checked the pulse of her throat and did something with her arm. He spoke with her to ascertain that she could still speak, but some of his questions made no sense.

“Can you tell me your name?” The human healer’s voice was smooth and reassuring. Ealdon would have approved. “Miss?”

Angela’s mind had wandered far away from what the man was saying. “Angela Lewis,” she replied, after a long pause.

“Do you have any medical problems? Any seizure disorder or diabetes?”

“No…” She didn’t think she did. The words meant almost as little to Harmony’s memories as they did to Angela.

He must not have heard her. “Angela? Can you say that again?”

“No. I’m tired.” She knew she sounded petulant, but her head hurt, and she shook with chill. After a time, she fell into a feverish sleep.

 

She walked an empty street in a human city. The stone street shone with moisture. The air was damp and the buildings dark. No fire of any kind lit the windows. In the distance, the sky glowed with the orange of a false dawn. Almost like the view of a burning forest, although she smelled no wood smoke. She put her hand on her belt to grip the knife at her waist but was dismayed when she discovered that she was unarmed. A deep shudder passed through her, only fools went about without weapons.

Ahead of her, a figure knelt on the ground. She crept towards it. “Hello?” She spoke quietly. In her fear, she didn’t want to attract attention to herself. A single light illuminated the man. With his head bowed as though in worship, he made no answer, and did not move. Drawing closer, Angela’s scalp prickled with horror. She reached out a hand to touch the kneeling man, unsure if she wanted to verify her suspicion. A rope ran from his neck to a peculiar scaffold made of metal arching over their heads. She touched his cheek then snatched her hand back from the stiff dead flesh.

Two figures stood on either side of her. One, a plump girl with dark curly hair, brought her right hand to her shadowed face as if to make a shushing gesture. Startled, Angela saw that the hand was misshaped, with only one finger and a thumb.

“He’ll hear you.” Her voice was only barely audible as she leaned close to Angela’s ear.

“Who?”

“Does it matter?”

The other person was a boy, thin with blond hair. Much taller than Angela. “Come on.” He didn’t bother to whisper. “I hate this kind of stuff.” He turned to walk away.

“Bailey!” The girl hissed. “We should do something.” Gesturing at the dead man. “Shouldn’t we call someone?”
The boy paused to look back over his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, Barnum. We’re only dreaming, again. Let’s go find something else to do before this turns into a full-on nightmare.”

“But, something’s after us.”

“No. None of this is real.” He waved his hand vaguely at the corpse and Angela.

“I’m not a dream.”

His pale eyebrows knitted as he focused on her. “Wait. You are real, aren’t you?”

Angela nodded.

“Huh. That means you’re dreaming this too. Weird.” He glanced towards the stocky girl. “That’s never happened before. It’s been just us, up until now.”

The dream was true; Angela understood that in her bones. “Who are you?” Behind them in the dark, a stealthy movement made Angela spin around before the boy could answer her question. The blackness shifted. Angela felt again for her nonexistent knife.

The boy turned towards the motion and he took a step back. His voice dropped to a murmur. “That’s real too.”

 

 

 

“You’re sulking.” Martin pointed out as they drove through rush hour traffic on I-94.

“I’m not sulking. I’m concentrating. This rain sucks to drive in.”

“At least it’s not snow.” Martin sounded almost serene. “That’d make this a real mess.”

Anna nodded, tight-lipped.

“Seriously,” Martin tried again. “I think this could be good for you and Harmony. I mean, maybe if you get her away from your parents she’ll act more like a human being. Most of my kids’ problems are because of their parents.” He’d been going on in this vein since Abbie had first called to tell them that she and Anna’s father were getting a divorce and that Harmony needed to come out to stay with Anna.

“Martin.” She spoke in her we’ve-been-over-this-too-many-times voice. “Your kids have been in foster care, or else they’ve run away, or they’ve been thrown out. Harmony, on the other hand, has been spoiled rotten since she was born. She’s never even gotten a spanking, much less anything like what your kids have been through. You can’t compare the situations at all.”

He looked out the window at the wet freeway. “I get that they might not have physically abused either you or our sister, but sending your kid away like this isn’t exactly responsible parenting. Anyway, putting her on a plane when she sounds as sick as she did when she called us is just crazy.”

Anna thought Martin’s bar for parenting was way too high. Her parents weren’t abusive, just run-of-the-mill shitty. Although Martin’s dad had been out of the picture for his whole life, his mom probably could take get an award for Mom of the Century.

“She was exaggerating.”

His silence sounded reproachful. Well, to be fair, it was miserable to travel when you were sick. “I’ll be nice.” Already the girl was coming between them. This was exactly why she hadn’t wanted to take her sister. She didn’t like what being around her family made her into. But Martin was right. There wasn’t anyone else to take Harmony.

In August, when it had all blown up, Abbie had called her twice or three times a day to cry. “I miss you so much, Skye.” Abbie would say, refusing to acknowledge that Anna preferred to go by her middle name, “When you’re gone, it’s so hard without you.”

Martin wisely kept himself out of it. Anna might have strangled him if he’d told her she needed to be more supportive of her mother. Conversely, she didn’t need any help resenting Abbie.

Anna’s Dad had moved in with his lover in September, and Abbie had taken less than six weeks to find some cause to pledge herself to. Anna supposed she should be grateful the woman had merely decided she wanted to volunteer to teach kids to read in some village in Honduras. She could have joined a cult or something.

Anna’s cell phone rang from deep in her purse. “Dammit. Get that for me, will you?”

Martin was already there. He fumbled around, and the ringing stopped. “Hello?” A pause while the other person spoke. “Yes. This is her phone. She’s driving right now. Can I pass on a message?” Another pause. Martin listened, then he spoke to the person on the other end using what Anna thought of as his professional voice. “Yes. I see.” He took the phone away from his ear. “It’s the airline, they say that your sister’s sick. They want to let you know they need to call an ambulance.”

Anna’s stomach dropped. “No. Fucking. Way.” That was so like Harmony. A little sniffle and a little headache and she made it into a major catastrophe. “Ask them what she’s complaining about now.” She floored the accelerator and darted into the left lane to get around a little red Subaru that looked way too much like Abbie’s car.

Abbie was going to get a call from her eldest daughter tonight that she’d HAVE to listen to when Harmony got herself put on a flight right back home.

“Can you…ah…tell me what the problem is?” Martin asked the person on the phone. “Uh huh. So, you’re sure it’s serious? Uh, huh.” He paused for a few seconds. “I… see. How long was she like that? Yeah? And you really think she should be seen in the ED?”

Anna ground her teeth. Great. They were going to spend all night at the hospital.

“Oh…right…All right, well we’re…hang on… How far from the airport are we?”

“About five minutes.” Anna dove into the left-hand lane. Well, at this speed they were five minutes away.

“Yeah. Okay, we’re about five minutes away. Where should we go? Uh Huh… Oh yeah, whatever they think makes sense…” He pulled out his pen from his shirt pocket and scribbled a note in his ever-present notebook. “Uh huh… Yeah. Okay. Thanks. Bye.” He hung up the phone. “They want us to go to the TSA office in the terminal she’s coming in on. They gave me the name of who to talk to.”

“I am so going to kill her if she’s not sick.” Anna thought of all the times Harmony pulled this kind of stunt for attention.

Martin’s patience seemed to be at an end. “Dammit, Anna.” He not-quite yelled, “They said she’s running a temperature of about 105 degrees. She passed out cold on the plane, and they want to take her to the hospital.”

“You don’t know what she’s like, Martin.” Anna flared up. She was angry and starting to panic. She didn’t know why she was so freaked out, just that it felt like Harmony’s coming was going to steal everything she’d worked so hard for. It was going to be the way it had always been, with her constantly at the little fairy princess’ beck and call.

Her dad’s words from last week came back to her. “I just don’t think I have the energy to keep up with her anymore. She needs more supervision than Maggie and I can give her.”

Martin and Anna didn’t say another word to each other until they parked. “I really do think she’s sick.” Martin put on his gloves and hat before he opened the car door. “It’s not like she’s the first hysterical teenager they ever dealt with. They’re pretty good at telling when someone’s just having an anxiety attack or whatever. It’s not like they want everyone to see the ambulance taking someone off one of their airplanes.”

Anna grabbed her own gloves and hurried out of the car, “Martin, you just don’t get it.” All her life Harmony had everyone in the world, with a few exceptions, wrapped around her little finger.

The rain turned to sleet, the pavement gleamed black in the lights of the parking lot. They tottered to the building, careful not to slip. The TSA office was full of people coming and going when they got there. Martin grabbed someone’s arm and asked for Rodney Prichard. An older man with a kind face came over.

“We’re…uh…looking for my sister.” Anna wondered if pretending to be sick enough to need an ambulance on an airplane was prosecutable.

“Yeah, come on, her plane just landed.” He beckoned to them, swiftly moving off, speaking on his radio.” I got her sister here.”

They headed towards the security line. “Oh, you are kidding me.”

“Sorry, Ma’am. But, it should only take a minute.” He led them around the long line, to the expedited line where he bypassed the waiting people altogether. He said something in a low voice to the woman officer screening passengers.

Martin slipped off his shoes and belt and set his phone and wallet on the conveyor. He met Anna’s eyes and gestured towards her shoes. She rolled her eyes. It took a moment to unzip her boots and pull off her coat. She was going to kill Harmony. They went through the scanner and reclaimed their stuff and followed their escort at almost a run. At the gate, three people in Emergency Services uniforms stood ready with a stretcher and equipment. A woman in airline uniform opened the door and ushered the EMTs through.

Anna started to wring her hands in the long, tense five minutes. She could feel eyes on her. People stopped to gawk at the disturbance. Embarrassed, she shifted from foot to foot.

The EMT’s came back through the door pulling the stretcher. Under the white blanket, Harmony shivered, curled up on her side with her hands shading her eyes, her T-shirt soaked through with sweat. Anna dashed forwards, “Harmony?”

“S-skye?”  When Harmony took her hands away from her face, Anna saw that it was gray and covered in sweat, “No. Sorry…You said everyone here calls you Anna…”

“Shh. Don’t worry about it.” Anna tried to sound soothing, but it didn’t work. She reached out and took Harmony’s hand. The sick girl squeezed it hard.

“Can she ride in the Ambulance?” Martin asked. “I can follow you in the car.”

The EMT nodded, speaking to Anna. “Yes, you can ride up front.”

Harmony’s eyes shut and her mouth went slack. Anna walked beside the cot, moving as though in a dream, holding her hand. When they were out of the building, she had to let go, and Harmony made a desperate little noise, opening her eyes in alarm. “You won’t leave me?”

“No, I’m riding up front.” Perhaps because Anna was so worried and Harmony was so sick, but Harmony seemed much more human today.

Anna climbed into the front of the ambulance, not speaking to anyone. This was so not going according to plan.

Anna fished around in her purse for her phone and dialed Abbie’s number. She got voice mail. “Mom. Harmony’s really sick.” She said, “I’m going to the hospital with her. Call me back.” She wondered if she should call their dad but opted for a text because she wasn’t up to comforting him.

It was going to be a long night.