Feb 212018
 

I’m so excited about my forthcoming release, THE MERMAID, that I just had to share the first chapter with you! I hope that you enjoy this sneak peek.

PART I – THE FISHERMAN AND THE MERMAID

Once there was a fisherman, a lonely man who lived on a cold and rocky coast and was never able to convince any woman to come away and live in that forbidding place with him. He loved the sea more than any person and so was never able to take a wife, for women see what is in men’s hearts more clearly than men would wish.

But though he loved the freezing spray on his face and the sight of the rolling clouds on the horizon, he still wished for somebody to love. One evening after a long day he pulled up his net and found a woman in it—something like a woman, anyway, with black hair and eyes as grey as a stormy sea and a gleaming fish’s tail.

He was sorry that she was caught, and told her so, though the storm in her eyes rolled into his heart. She stopped her thrashing and crashing at his voice, though she did not understand his words. The fisherman loosed her and she dove back into the water the way a wild thing returns to a wild place, and he watched her go.

But her eyes had seen inside him the way that women’s eyes do, and his loneliness snaked into her, and she was sorry for it, for that loneliness caught her more surely than the net.

She swam away from his boat as fast as she could and she felt his loneliness trailing between them like a cord. She did not want his feelings to bind her, to pull her back to him, so her tail flashed silver in the water and her eyes looked straight before her and never behind.

But though she didn’t look back she felt him watching, and she remembered the shape of his boat and the rocky curve of the land not too far off and the lines around his eyes, eyes that were dark as the deep sea under the moon. She remembered, and so she returned again to watch him.

She was called a name that meant, in her own tongue, Breaking the Surface of the Sea. When she was born she’d come in a great hurry, much sooner than all of her six older sisters and brothers. The attendant who’d aided her mother had been astonished when she tried to swim away before the cord that bound her to her mother was cut.

Her mother and father and siblings spent most of her childhood trying to find her, for she was never where she ought to be. She was warned repeatedly of the dangers of the surface and of the men who cast nets there, and of their cruelty to the denizens of the ocean.

They should never have told her, for in the telling she wanted to know more, and wanting to know more led her farther and farther afield.

Her home was deep in the ocean, far away from the land that pushed up against the water on either side, and this was because her people feared the men with their hooks and their nets and the boats that floated on the surface of the waves as if by magic. The storytellers told of silver fins caught by cruel metal, and dragged to the decks of ships where blood ran red and spilled back into the water, calling things that swam the ocean in search of dying creatures.

Sometimes there was a storm, and that storm would batter a ship to pieces and the men would fall into the water and sink, sink, sink to the bottom—the lucky ones, that is. The unlucky ones were devoured by roaming hunters with their silver-grey bodies and black eyes and white, white teeth.

When the ships were sunk the mermaid would go to the wreckage and explore, and pick up odd things that humans used, and wonder about them. And then one of her brothers or her parents would find her and she would be chided for her foolishness and dragged home by her wrist, staring with longing over her shoulder all the while.

One day she was swimming near the surface—far too near the surface, her family would have said—and saw a large, large ship of a sort she had never seen before. On the prow of the ship she saw a strange thing.

It looked like her—like a mermaid, but frozen and sealed to the ship.

She swam alongside the ship for a long time, trying to see how the sailors had bound this mermaid to their craft. It was not easy, for the proximity of the ship necessitated keeping out of sight of the sailors. She would break the surface to catch a glimpse of the other mermaid and then would be forced to plunge below the water again before she was spotted.

There was a fine wind and all the sails were full, and so the ship clipped along the surface and after a time the mermaid grew tired. But she wanted to see, she wanted to know, and so she followed and followed even when she could no longer stay alongside. Her tail started to drag, and her swimming slowed, and then suddenly the ship was far ahead of her, disappearing over the flat line of the horizon.

And the mermaid was alone, and far from home, and did not know how to find her way back again.

This ought to have made her sad, or frightened, or any number of other distressed feelings. But while she was sorry she might never see her family again, she wasn’t as upset as she should be.

Rather, she felt the freedom to go where she chose, and do what she chose. Yes, there would be consequences (she was not so silly as to think there wouldn’t be), but they would be her choices and her consequences and not the ones laid out for her by someone else.

Freedom was far more intoxicating than safety could ever be.

She wanted to see and know more than she ever could at the bottom of the ocean. So she swam after the ship, because the ship would go to land and the mermaid had never seen land before.

And so she crossed the ocean, and came to the place where there was land. The mermaid spent many days watching the people on shore and the ones who came out to the sea on boats. Always, always she was careful to avoid the hooks and lines and cages and nets, because she had found her freedom and she loved it, and she would not be bound to someone else’s will again.

Until the day she was busy trying to loose a fish caught on a hook, as it was shaking and fighting and she was trying to help, but it was too panicked to let her. She didn’t see the net come down from above, and then she was caught.

She panicked then too, just like the fish she’d been trying to aid; she thrashed her tail, pulled with all her might, but all her thrashing entangled her more securely than before until she was hauled, furious and weeping, to the surface.

His eyes were dark and full of surprise when they saw what was in his net. Surprise, and wonder, and then a little sadness that she almost missed. When he raised the knife she was sure he would fillet her then, but he only spoke some words she did not understand and cut away that which bound her.

She swam away and wondered about the man who’d let her go.

That night the fisherman watched the sea from his cottage, which was perched on the rocks above a small cove where he tied up his boat at night. It was cold, for it was coming on winter and it never really was warm in the North Atlantic anyhow. He buried his hands in the pocket of his coat and stared out at the churning mass of water, and looked for her under the moon. But though he turned his head at the sound of every faint splash he did not see that which his heart most longed for—the sight of her fin silhouetted against the moonlight.

He’d likely been a fool to let her go. Nobody would believe the story if he told it, and he wasn’t about to make a fool of himself down at the tavern in the village. He was old enough to be past the bragging flush of youth, though not so old that he would have minded seeing the light of wonder in their eyes had he brought a mermaid home.

He could never have done it. That he knew for certain. He could not have taken that wild thing that looked on him with such wild eyes and forced her to stay with him, to make her a prisoner, to profit by her hurt.

She hadn’t looked as he expected her to, the way he’d been told since he was a boy listening to tales that a mermaid should look. Those stories spoke of pale bare-breasted women with long flowing hair, human women in every way except for their tail fin.

What he’d caught in his net had been far more alien, a creature covered in silver scales all over, with webbing between its fingers and teeth much sharper than any human’s. But her eyes had been a woman’s, and they’d looked into his heart as a woman’s eyes do and seen all the loneliness there.

He’d felt in that moment that his heart was visible outside his chest, that if she’d wanted she could have grasped it in those long scaly fingers and taken it away with her.

Then he’d come to his senses and loosed her because he knew he should and the state of his heart was no concern of the mermaid.

But still he watched the water in hope, for the dearest wish of all fishermen is to see a mermaid, to brush up against something magical and hope some of that magic would stay with him for always.

He watched and watched, but he did not see her.

When finally the moon was past its zenith he put away his dreams and went inside to sleep. He knew he would never see her again, and in his own practical way thought at least he’d seen her one time. That was more than most fishermen. He’d touched magic, and he should not want for more.

He did not see her, but she watched him from beneath the water near his cottage, and she knew he was looking for her. She couldn’t say how she knew this except that his eyes had been a little sad when he let her go. His loneliness had burrowed into her heart and the ache of it burned inside her.

The mermaid had heard stories, spoken-under-the-breath-in-secret-places stories, about those of her kind who had left the deep and walked upon land.

There was no special magic about this unless you considered that mermaids were magical in and of themselves; the mermaid did not consider herself anything special because she had always known her own kind.

In those stories, those secret stories, the mermaid only had to touch dry land and her fin would be transformed into legs to walk about. If she touched the water of the sea again, her fin would return.

The mermaid had never wished to walk upon land before, but suddenly she found she wanted this with all her heart. She could think only of all the things she’d never seen that were hidden past the shore: all the people and all the things for which she had no name and wanted to name so she could place them in her memory and keep them there.

It was dark, even with the moon, and there was a stretch of sandy beach hidden in the rocks, a little cove where the fisherman tied up his boat at night.

The mermaid thought she would swim to that place and touch the dry shore and see if the stories were true. Her heart was bursting with anticipation—how wonderful, how free, how perfect it would be if she could pass between the shore and the sea. Not like a man did, of course—men swimming in the water were awkward, flopping things with their limbs splashing out in all directions.

No, she would be as lithe as a fish in water and graceful as a human on land and all the world would be open to her. All the world and its wonders and she would see them, every one.

She swam into the cove, and when her head rose above the water she saw the jagged rocks rising on either side and the boat nestled inside. Beside the boat was a small wooden pier and a short beach that connected to a set of steps leading up to the fisherman’s cottage.

There were no lights in the cottage and the mermaid was certain the fisherman was inside and asleep and would not look out and see her there. Even if he did, she reasoned, he would only see a shadow moving against another shadow—the light of the moon did not reach this place.

The mermaid swam to the shore, until she could feel the wet sand dragging beneath her fin and she could no longer kick up and down for there wasn’t enough water. She reached for the dry land just beyond the lapping waves—reached, and then paused.

What if it did not work? What if those stories, those always-whispered stories were not true? What if her heart longed always for the land and for the man with the lonely dark eyes and she was to never, ever have what she wished for?

For some the possibility of failure would be a check, would make them turn back to the familiar. Not the mermaid. She had to know, and the only way to know was to reach out, to touch the shore.

Her fingers brushed the dry sand, and she reveled in the wonder of it, of the feel of each grain as it passed through her hands free and unencumbered by water. It made her laugh out loud, to touch this thing she’d never touched before.

And then she felt a horrible wrench deep in her gut, and a tearing in her fin, and she tried to cry out but it was caught in her throat. This was terrible, terrible, there was no wonder here at all—only pain and then cold, the most profound cold she had ever known. The waves lapped against her bare legs and she could feel the chill of the ocean. She had never felt the ocean’s cold before. It seemed to sink into her blood and marrow and freeze her from her muscles and bones out to the delicate skin that covered her instead of scales.

How do humans live with this cold? she thought. Every part of her felt fragile, as if she would burst into pieces if someone put a fingertip on her. The sand, so wonderful only a moment before, scraped her raw wherever it touched and her shoulders shook with cold.

Her teeth clattered together in her mouth and she reached up with sandy fingers to touch them because they felt different, somehow flatter. They were flatter, not pointed as they had been before, and more like a human’s teeth.

Her scales were gone and her teeth were gone and in return she had these things, these legs, which felt not free and light like her fin but like heavy bonding weights pulling her into the earth.

Had she thought it would be marvelous to be a human? Had she thought she would have all the world before her? The world was not open to her. Her legs were like a net, a net that caught her and kept her from swimming free.

She almost let go then, to push back into the water and let her scales cover her body and swim back, all the way back to the deep, deep ocean where her family would be waiting for her.

Then she shook her head hard, though she trembled all over with cold and fear. She would not return in shame so they could shake their heads and say she never have left in the first place.

She wanted to know what it was like to be a human. Humans walked on their legs. So she must stand.

But how? Nothing about her body seemed familiar. She did not know how things connected, how to push and pull all these alien parts to get what and where she wanted.

The first thing, she felt, was to get clear of the ocean. Her human form was not meant for this place. The mermaid put her arms in the sand and pulled the rest of her body out of the water—slowly, so slowly, gritting her teeth as the sand scraped against her.

Once she was out of the water she discovered the night air was nearly as cold, and that it blew into the cove and swirled in eddies around her. It made the water that clung to her freeze, and her delicate human skin rose in bumps.

This is why humans put the skin of other creatures on their bodies, she thought. She’d seen them in wrapped in furs, or in sealskin boots, and thought them barbaric. But now she realized that they must have these coverings, or else they would die. She felt, at that moment, like she might die from the cold.

Cold. She was so cold.

She craned upward to see the fisherman’s cottage. Inside there it would not be cold. He would cover her with a fur and dry the water away and she would be warm, warm, warm. And then he would smile because she had come to him from out of the sea so he would not be lonely anymore.

The fisherman. She must reach him. To reach him she must walk. To walk she must stand and it didn’t matter that she didn’t know how.

Her legs had a bend in the middle. She could feel it, feel the place where the leg separated into two connected parts like her arms.

She pushed up to the palms of her hands, and bent her legs until her knees were in the sand, and she huffed out her breath in the cold air because everything seemed so much harder than she expected. How did humans simply stand up on these stiff fins at the end of their legs and walk?

The mermaid rolled her ankles experimentally, curled up her toes, and by slow and careful practice found herself standing (wobbling) on her new feet. She did not feel very certain about what to do next.

She’d seen humans walking on their ships and knew that each foot took turns leaving the ground while the other stayed. This seemed almost impossible as she stood there trembling all over and feeling that at any moment she might find her face in the sand.

But the fisherman was at the top of the stairs. And so she must climb.

The mermaid lifted one of her feet, and the wonder of being able to do it at all struck her then. She stared down at her legs, at the foot stuck in the sand and the other lifted in the air, and laughed out loud.

And then she did fall forward, landing on her elbows and knees, and had to start it all over again.

She struggled to stand. Once there, she shuffled one foot forward very carefully and then the other—one after another, scritch-scratch across the sand. All the while she clutched her body with her arms—they seem so thin and frail, so incapable of protecting her from the frozen air that bit through her skin and into her blood.

Then she reached the stairs and looked up, and had the horrible realization that she would not be able to shuffle here. Each step was high and made of wood and there was nothing to hold except the rock face.

The mermaid felt very tired then, and wanted to do anything but climb the steps. But climb them she did, and later she had no notion of how she’d done this, except that it took a very long time.

When she reached the top, the moon had almost disappeared beneath the horizon of the sea. Her hands and legs were bloodied and covered with splinters from where she fell on the stairs and her teeth chattered with such force that she felt they might break.

The mermaid stumbled to the door of the cottage and reached for the handle, as she had seen the fisherman do when she watched him from the water.

The door swung open and she clung to the frame. Inside the cottage there were many things that were strange to her—things the fisherman would teach her the names for, things like a kettle and a pan and flour in a jar and tea in a wooden box and a table and a chair (soon he would need two chairs, one for each of them).

Beyond the room full of strange things there was another doorway, this one without a door in it, and she heard the sleeping-breathing noise that humans made and knew the fisherman must be there.

The doorway seemed a long way from the one she was in, and the rough wood of the floor would hurt if she tried to slide across it as she had done the sand—this she knew from climbing the stairs, where unpredictable splinters had jabbed into her tender new skin.

It took a long while for her to cross to his room. When she reached it she saw him asleep in bed, the blankets pulled up tight past his chin. He lay on his side and only the lids of his eyes and the black tufts of his hair were visible.

The room seemed warmer than the others, heated by his sleeping breath, and she wanted so much to be where it was warm. She knelt beside his bed, stroked her fingers into his hair, and watched as his dark eyes opened. She saw the recognition in them, and she never wondered how he knew it was her, the same mermaid he’d caught in his net.

A long time later he told her that it was her eyes, that her eyes were the same no matter what form she took and when he saw them he knew she’d returned to him.

He lifted the blanket, and she saw that underneath was his man’s body with no coverings on it as humans usually wore. She went to him then, and his warmth covered her, and his love filled her heart and made her want to stay.

He taught her how to speak his human-speak, and told her his name was Jack. Her name was not something they could say in human, so he told her many names for many days until he said the one she liked, and so she was called Amelia.

Amelia loved Jack, but she could not leave the sea altogether, and at night she practiced transforming from a mermaid to a woman, until she could pass easily between one and the other without the pain that had struck her down the first time.

So she stayed with him, and loved him, and lived as a woman on land and a mermaid in the sea for many years. At night, when there were no other fishermen about and her husband lay sleeping in their bed, she would go out to the rocks and leave her human dress there, and dive into the black water and there she would stay, at least until her heart remembered the eyes of the man she loved and she would return to him.

She loved him almost as much as she loved the sea, and so they were well matched, for he loved the sea almost as much as he loved her. He’d never thought any person could draw him more than the ocean, but the crashing waves were there in her eyes and the salt of the spray was in her skin and there, too, was something in her that the sea could never give. The ocean could never love him back, but Amelia did.

Many years passed, and they were happy and content, but there were no children. Neither of them spoke of their secret hopes, or their secret sorrows, but sometimes they would sit upon their deck and watch the water churning below the rocks and he would take her hand and she would know he was thinking of the children that never became.

They lived near a village—close enough to supply them with what they could not provide themselves but not so close as to force them to be neighborly when they had no wish to be. Jack loved Amelia and the sea, and Amelia loved the sea and Jack, but they did not love the questions that too-keen neighbors asked, questions about where Amelia had come from and where were her people and when had they gotten married and oh this was so sudden, wasn’t it?

Still, they grew accustomed to Amelia after a time, as folk will. They were a good people, but suspicious, and the mermaid’s eyes were always too direct, too beautiful, to make them comfortable. And where there is discomfort there is sometimes jealousy, and sometimes curiosity, and the two mingled on their gossiping tongues until the villagers were accustomed to the taste.

“That wife of old Jack’s, they say she goes out in the moonlight and dances with the devil and that’s how she stays so young and lovely.”

“That’s foolishness, Martha, where would she go to dance up there? Their house is perched on the rocks just so. A good nor’easter would push it in to the sea, I expect, and there are no forest clearings for dancing to be seen,” her companion replied, with more than a touch of New England asperity.

There was more than a touch of New England superstition lingering, though, enough that some folk believed the tales of moonlight and demon-dancing. Many treated Amelia just the same when she came into the village, but there were those who never would.

The years passed, as years will. Jack grew old, though Amelia did not, and after a time the people of the village began to remark on this—even the ones who were inclined not to believe the worst of her in the first place.

They had not known, Jack and Amelia, that when she crawled out of the ocean to be at his side that they would not grow old together. Mermaids, it happened, lived a very long time, though they did not reckon time in the same manner as men. Amelia watched her young strong husband grow brittle, his face as grey and weatherbeaten as the prow of a ship.

Still she loved him, and loved him more for she knew his heart, and after many, many years she found she loved him even more than the sea.

And so the sea, who can be bitter and jealous herself, took Jack away—perhaps in hopes that Amelia would love her best again.

It was an ordinary day, mostly grey but with peeks of sun, and the wind was light and fine. Jack kissed her good-bye as he always did and made his way—slowly now, so slowly—down the many steps to the cove.

Amelia watched from the door of the cottage as he rowed out of the cove. He waved to her when he saw her standing there, and she waved back. She had a feeling then that this would be the last time he would wave to her, that this was their final good-bye.

This feeling clutched her heart so strongly that she believed it was truth, and she ran from the cottage down the steps to the cove to call him back.

It was too late then, far too late, for the wind was blowing into the cove and it took her voice and threw it against the rocks instead of carrying it out to the ears of her beloved.

She watched him row farther out, farther away from her, and join all the other boats out to draw their trade from the sea.

For one wild moment she thought of changing into a mermaid to follow him, to bring him back home. But the presence of all the other boats stopped her.

There were nets there, and hooks and lines. The one time she’d been caught in a net it had led her to Jack, but she had no desire to be caught again. What if the fisherman who caught her didn’t believe that she was Amelia, that she was Jack’s wife? What if he carved her up with his knife to sell at the market?

This fear made her slightly ashamed, for she’d always been brave, but it was easier to be brave when you had nothing to lose. And she did have something to lose now—her home, her life, her happiness.

After all, what if this feeling was only that—a feeling? Would she put her—their—secret at risk for nothing? And what could harm Jack on that sort of day? It was a fine day with no signs of storm.

She was only worrying because he looked so frail lately, she reasoned. But when he came home that night she would tell him in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t to go so far out to sea alone any longer.

All day she tried to go about her chores as usual. She found that she was constantly at the window, looking and hoping, but the sun went on its usual journey and the fisherman did not reappear at the horizon.

As night fell she went out to the rocks and waited. The cold air bit into her bones as it had done the first night she’d walked as a human, so long ago. Amelia didn’t go back inside, to wait by the fire or to put on a coat. She stared at the ocean as if the intensity of that stare would make her Jack appear there, tired and careworn but safe—Above all things let him be safe.

But she could not make him appear, no matter how hard she wished it, so when night fell and all the other fishermen had tied up their boats until the morrow, she went down to the cove and took off her dress and touched the water of the ocean.

In a silver flash she was in the water and swimming faster than any human ever could. Amelia followed the line she thought Jack had taken, out to the open water where he could cast his net.

She swam and swam. It was dark and the land slowly disappeared behind her, but still she swam. She swam, surfacing to look for his boat, always sure that when she came up she would see his dear face looking sheepish and saying he’d lost track of the time.

Finally she broke the water and saw it—his boat, the one with her name carved in the side so she knew it was his. It sat still and empty, the ocean lapping against its sides, and no sign of Jack anywhere.

Amelia swam to the boat and heaved herself over the side, her fin trailing in the water, sure that he was only asleep in the bottom. But there was no Jack, or nets, or fish that he might have caught. There was only the empty boat, oars tucked neatly inside.

She cried out then, and plunged back into the water and down to the deep. Mermaids can see through the dark of the ocean.

Amelia was sure, absolutely certain, that if only she looked far enough she would find he’d fallen in the water and was trying to swim back to the surface. She knew he was trying to swim back to her. He would never leave her. Not her Jack.

She would find him soon. Very soon. She was sure of it. He was just out of sight, but his hand was reaching up for her and she would find him and she would save him and they would go home, home where they belonged, home on the cliff by the sea where they could see the ocean they both loved.

But she didn’t find him, though she looked and looked. After a long time she went back to the surface and found his boat again. She searched all over it for any clue, any sign of what might have happened to her Jack.

There was nothing, only the empty boat and the folded oars and no sign that Jack had ever been there at all.

Amelia knew then that the ocean had swallowed him, torn him away from her, and a great bitterness filled her heart. She hated the ocean, hated the vast and heartless expanse that had taken Jack from her.

She wanted only to be out of the water then, away from the lapping waves and the boat that had borne her love away from her and delivered him into the cruel depths.

Mermaids do not cry, but Amelia had spent too long as a human, and so as she swam back to shore the tears streamed over the scales on her face and mixed with the brine of the sea.

When she touched the sand of the cove she put on her human dress again and climbed the stairs back to the empty cottage. There she sat by the cold ashes in the fire and wept bitter tears until she felt wrung dry.

Jack’s boat never came back to the cove, and some of the other fishermen noticed the empty pier, and they told their neighbors that they saw Jack’s strange wife standing on the rocks every day, staring out at the sea.

They assumed poor old Jack had been taken by the ocean, as was not uncommon, and some of them even spared a kind thought for his wife who watched for him day after day. But mostly they wondered when she would give up and leave, for she was not from that part of the world, and now that Jack was gone they thought that she too would go.

But Amelia did not leave. She stayed there in the cottage on the rocks, year after year. The wood of the cottage became white from the wind and the salt spray, and Amelia’s dresses grew as thin as her face, but she would not leave.

And she did not grow any older.

The people of the village could not help themselves talking, for winters were long and brutal where they lived, and a mystery is good for many an endless night. They wondered what kept her there on those rocks, and where she might have come from, and if, perhaps, she might have come from the sea.

This idea was met with less derision than that of Amelia dancing in the moonlight with the devil. These were an oceangoing people, and everyone knew that mermaids swam the ocean. Everyone knew that a mermaid might fall in love with a human man.

And far from making the people frightened of her, this knowledge seemed to comfort them, for it meant that in her own way Amelia belonged to them. She, too, was part of the ocean that gave and took everything from them.

Because she was one of them they would protect her, and when she came into the village (much less often now) their eyes and their voices were softer than before. She was their Amelia, their wonder, their mermaid.

But the rumors about this strange and unusual woman who never grew old, and who might be a mermaid, traveled from village to village and town to town, as they do, until they reached the ears of a man whose business was in the selling of the strange and unusual.

His name was P. T. Barnum, and he’d been looking for a mermaid.

 

THE MERMAID will be released by Penguin Random House and Titan Books on June 19th, 2018.

You can add THE MERMAID to your Goodreads shelf here

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Nov 082017
 

I am so thrilled to share the beautiful cover of THE MERMAID with you! Coming June 18, 2018 – preorder links below.

From the author of Lost Boy comes a historical fairy tale about a mermaid who leaves the sea for love and later finds herself in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum as the real Fiji mermaid. However, leaving the museum may be harder than leaving the sea ever was.

Once there was a mermaid who longed to know of more than her ocean home and her people. One day a fisherman trapped her in his net but couldn’t bear to keep her. But his eyes were lonely and caught her more surely than the net, and so she evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore. The mermaid, Amelia, became his wife, and they lived on a cliff above the ocean for ever so many years, until one day the fisherman rowed out to sea and did not return.

P. T. Barnum was looking for marvelous attractions for his American Museum, and he’d heard a rumor of a mermaid who lived on a cliff by the sea. He wanted to make his fortune, and an attraction like Amelia was just the ticket.

Amelia agreed to play the mermaid for Barnum, and she believes she can leave any time she likes. But Barnum has never given up a money-making scheme in his life, and he’s determined to hold on to his mermaid.”

You can add THE MERMAID to your Goodreads list here

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Jul 042017
 

Today is LOST BOY release day, and I’m so excited for all of you to read it!

LOST BOY is off to a great start. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and says “Multiple twists keep the reader guessing, and the fluid writing is enthralling”.  Booklist says, “This wild, unrelenting tale, full to the brim with the freedom and violence of young boys who never want to grow up, will appeal to fans of dark fantasy.” Starburst Magazine says, “This audacious and gripping treatment of this well-known story is expertly told by Henry’s emotive, evocative prose.”

It’s one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Month in Science Fiction and Fantasy for July and they gave it a nice shout-out in their Omnivoracious editor’s list. Kirkus Reviews named it one of “Your Best Bets for Fascinating SF/F/H Reads in July“. Barnes & Noble named it one of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of July and gave it a wonderful review here.

Romantic Times gave LOST BOY 4 1/2 stars and named it a Top Pick for July. Bookish named it one of their Hot New Releases, and Goodreads recommended it as one of their “7 Great Books Hitting the Shelves This Week“. It is also one of Hello Giggles 15 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in July.

Want to get a copy of LOST BOY and meet me in person? I’ll be signing copies at Anderson’s Bookshop in LaGrange on Monday July 10th at 7pm (details here) and at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego on Friday July 21st (details here). I’ll also be attending San Diego Comic Con – details to come once programming is confirmed.

Entertainment Weekly has an excerpt of LOST BOY here

If you’ve already picked up LOST BOY and loved it, would you consider leaving a review? Reviews help authors so much – especially on online retailer sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble because of the way these sites recommend books to other people. The more reviews the more often the book is recommended. Thank you so much!

You can pick up a copy of LOST BOY here:

Mar 132017
 

LOST BOY will be released July 4th, 2017.

“There is one version of my story that everyone knows. And then there is the truth. This is how it happened. How I went from being Peter Pan’s first—and favorite—lost boy to his greatest enemy.

Peter brought me to his island because there were no rules and no grownups to make us mind. He brought boys from the Other Place to join in the fun, but Peter’s idea of fun is sharper than a pirate’s sword. Because it’s never been all fun and games on the island. Our neighbors are pirates and monsters. Our toys are knife and stick and rock—the kinds of playthings that bite.

Peter promised we would all be young and happy forever.

Peter lies.”

Read an exclusive excerpt at Entertainment Weekly

You can stay in the loop about everything LOST BOY by signing up for the newsletter at peterlies.com

Want to add LOST BOY to your Goodreads list? You can do that here

You can preorder LOST BOY at:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

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Indiebound

Mysterious Galaxy

Powells

 

Jan 012017
 

lost boy_FCO_mech.indd

“There is one version of my story that everyone knows. And then there is the truth. This is how it happened. How I went from being Peter Pan’s first—and favorite—lost boy to his greatest enemy.

Peter brought me to his island because there were no rules and no grownups to make us mind. He brought boys from the Other Place to join in the fun, but Peter’s idea of fun is sharper than a pirate’s sword. Because it’s never been all fun and games on the island. Our neighbors are pirates and monsters. Our toys are knife and stick and rock—the kinds of playthings that bite.

Peter promised we would all be young and happy forever.

Peter lies.”

Read an exclusive excerpt at Entertainment Weekly

You can stay in the loop about everything LOST BOY by signing up for the newsletter at peterlies.com

Want to add LOST BOY to your Goodreads list? You can do that here

You can preorder LOST BOY at:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books-a-Million

Indiebound

Mysterious Galaxy

Powells

May 252016
 

Some thoughts on RED QUEEN: in ALICE, Alice and Hatcher have to confront their (completely horrible) pasts in order to survive in a very dangerous world. In RED QUEEN, I’m exploring what happens after you’ve been through something that traumatic. What interested me was how they survived, how they learned to deal with what had happened to them, and how they become whole people again – not putting it behind them, necessarily, but learning how to incorporate what’s happened into their new, changed selves. Of course there is still darkness and danger, but RED QUEEN is not nearly as dark as ALICE. It also draws more from fairy tale inspiration than the original Alice books, although Carroll remains a strong influence.

Dec 042015
 

I’ve got a little teaser for readers to celebrate the cover reveal for RED QUEEN!

Alice remembered a story one of her governesses told her, about a little girl who went into a house that wasn’t hers. She sat in three chairs and tasted three bowls of porridge and rolled in three beds. And for being too curious (and, Alice thought, very rude) the little girl was eaten up by the bears who lived there. She repeated this story to Hatcher, who gave her a curious look.

“Are you worried about bears?” he asked.

“Well, no,” Alice admitted. “But the moral remains. Considering the type of person we’ve encountered since we escaped, I wouldn’t want to make assumptions about the owner of any of these houses. We might go to sleep and wake up to discover a madman with a knife leaning over us.”

I’m the madman with the knife,” Hatcher said.

RED QUEEN will be released July 12, 2016!

Add RED QUEEN to your Goodreads list here

Preorder RED QUEEN from:

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Amazon paperback here

Amazon Kindle here

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Kobo here

Indiebound here

red_queen_front mech.indd

Jun 162015
 

CHAPTER ONE

If she moved her head all the way up against the wall and tilted it to the left she could just see the edge of the moon through the bars. Just a silver sliver, almost close enough to eat. A sliver of cheese, a sliver of cake, a cup of tea to be polite. Someone had given her a cup of tea once, someone with blue-green eyes and long ears. Funny how she couldn’t remember his face, though. All that part was hazy, her memory of him wrapped in smoke but for the eyes and ears. And the ears were long and furry.

When they found her all she would say was, “The Rabbit. The Rabbit. The Rabbit.” Over and over. When she acted like that they said she was mad. Alice knew she wasn’t mad. Maybe. Not deep down. But the powders they gave her made the world all muzzy and sideways and sometimes she felt mad.

Everything had happened just as she said, when she could say something besides Rabbit. She and Dor went into the old City for Dor’s birthday. 16th birthday. 16 candles on your cake, a sliver of cake and a cup of tea for you, my dear. They both went in, but only Alice came out. Two weeks later came Alice, covered in blood, babbling about tea and a rabbit, wearing a dress that wasn’t hers. Red running down the inside of her legs and blue marks on her thighs where fingers had been.

Her hand went without thought to her left cheek, touched the long thick scar that followed the line of bone from her hairline to the top of her lip. Her face had been flayed open when they found her, and she couldn’t say how or why. It had been open for a long while, the blood oozing from it gone black and brackish, the skin around it tattered at the edges. The doctors told her parents they had done their best, but she would never be beautiful again.

Her sister said it was her own fault. If she had stayed out of the Old City as she was supposed to this never would have happened. There was a reason why they lived in the New City, the ring of shiny new buildings that kept the Old City at bay. The Old City wasn’t for people like them. It was for the filth you throw away. All children were warned about the dangers of straying to the Old City. Alice didn’t belong there.

The hospital where Alice had lived for the last ten years was in the Old City, so her sister was wrong. Alice did belong there.

Sometimes her parents came to visit, doing their duty; their noses wrinkled like she was something that smelled bad, even though the attendants always dragged her out and gave her a bath first. She hated the baths. They were icy cold and rough with scrubbing, and she was never permitted to clean herself. If she struggled or cried out they would hit her with the bath brush or pinch hard enough to leave a mark, always somewhere that couldn’t be seen, the side of her breast or the soft part of her belly, with a promise of ‘more where that came from’ unless she behaved.

Her parents didn’t visit so much anymore. Alice couldn’t really remember the last time, but she knew it was a long time. The days all ran together in her room, no books to read, no things to do. Hatcher said she should exercise so she would be fit when she got out, but somewhere in her heart Alice knew she would never get out. She was a broken thing, and the New City did not like broken things. They liked the new and the whole. Alice hardly recalled when she was new and whole. That girl seemed like someone else she’d known once, long ago and far away.

“Alice?” A voice through the mouse-hole.

Many years before a mouse had gotten into the wall and chewed through the batting between her cell and Hatcher’s. She didn’t know what had happened to the mouse. Probably caught in a trap in the kitchens, or went out on the river side and drowned. But the mouse had led her to Hatcher, a rough voice coming through the wall. She had really thought she’d gone round the bend at first, hearing voices coming from nowhere.

“Hey you,” the voice had said.

She’d looked around wildly, afraid, and scuttled into a corner on the far side of the window, opposite the door.

“Hey, you. Down here,” the voice said.

She resolutely put her fingers in her ears. Everyone knew hearing voices was a sign of madness, and she’d promised to herself she would not be mad no matter what they said, no matter how she felt. After several moments of happy silence she released her fingers and looked around the room in relief.

A great sigh exhaled from the walls. “The mouse hole, you nit.”

Alice stared in alarm at the small opening in the corner opposite. Somehow a talking mouse was worse than voices in her head. If mice were talking then there really were men with blue-green eyes and long furry ears. And while she didn’t remember his face she did remember she’d been afraid. She stared at the mouse hole like something horrible might suddenly emerge from it, like the Rabbit might unfold himself from that space and finish whatever he had started.

Another sign, this one shorter and much more impatient. “You’re not hearing bloody voices and a mouse is not speaking to you. I’m in the room next to yours and I can see you through the hole. You’re not crazy and there’s no magic, so will you please come here and speak with me before I go madder than I already have?”

“If you’re not in my head and you’re not magic, then how do you know what I’m thinking?” Alice asked, her voice suspicious. She was beginning to wonder if this wasn’t some trick of the doctors, some way to draw her into a trap.

The attendants gave her a powder with her breakfast and dinner, to “keep her calm”, they said. But she knew that those powders still allowed her some freedom to be Alice, to think and dream and try to remember the lost bits of her life. When they took her out of her room for a bath or a visit she sometimes saw other patients, people standing still with dead eyes and drool on their chins, people who were alive and didn’t know it. Those people were “difficult to deal with”. They got injections instead of powders. Alice didn’t want injections, so she wasn’t going to say or do anything that would alarm the doctors. Doctors who might be trying to trick her with voices in the wall.

“I know what you’re thinking, because that’s what I’d be thinking if I were you,” the voice said. “We’re in the loony bin, aren’t we? Now come over and have a look through the hole and you’ll see.”

She stood cautiously; still unsure it was not a trick, whether of her mind or the doctors. She crossed under the window and crouched by the mouse hole.

“All I can see are your knees,” the voice complained. “Come all the way down, won’t you?”

Alice lowered to her stomach, keeping her head well away from the opening. She had a vague fear that a needle might flash through the hole and plunge into her eye.

Once her cheek was on the ground she could see through the small, tight opening. On the other side was an iron gray eye and part of a nose. There was a bulge just where the rest of the nose disappeared from view, like it might have been broken once. It didn’t look like any doctor she knew, but Alice wasn’t taking any chances. “Let me see your whole face,” she said.

“Good,” the gray eye said. “You’re thinking. That’s good. Not just a pretty face, then.”

Alice’s hand moved automatically to cover her scar, then she remembered she was lying on that side of her face and he couldn’t really see it anyway. Let him think she was pretty if he wanted. It would be nice to be pretty to someone even with her fair hair all snarled and nothing to wear but a woolen shift. She heard the swish-swish of wool on batting as the gray eye moved away from the hole and became two gray eyes, a long broken nose and a bushy black beard with flecks of white in it.

“All right, then?” the voice asked. “I’m Hatcher.”

And that was how they met. Hatcher was ten years older than Alice, and nobody ever came to see him.

“Why are you here?” she asked one day, long after they were friends, or at least friends who never really saw one another.

“I killed a lot of people with an axe,” he said. “That’s how I got my name. Hatcher.”

“What was your name before?” Alice asked. She was surprisingly undisturbed by the knowledge that her new friend was an axe-murderer. It seemed unrelated to who he was now, the rough voice and gray eyes through the hole in the wall.

“I don’t remember,” he said. “I don’t remember anything from before, really. They found me with a bloodied axe in my hand and five people dead around me all slashed to pieces. I tried to do the same for the police when they came for me, so I must have killed those people.”

“Why did you do it?”

“Don’t remember,” he said, and his voice change a little, became hard. “It’s like there’s this haze over my eyes, black smoke filling everything up. I remember the weight of the axe in my hand, and the hot blood on my face, in my mouth. I remember the sound of the blade in soft flesh.”

“I remember that too,” Alice said, although she didn’t know why she said that. For a moment it had been true, though. She could hear the sound of a knife piercing skin, that sliding slicing noise, and someone screaming.

“Did you kill a lot of people too?” Hatcher asked.

“I don’t know,” Alice said. “I might have.”

“It’s all right if you did,” Hatcher said. “I would understand.”

“I really don’t know,” Alice said. “I remember before and I remember after, but that fortnight is gone, save for a few flashes.”

“The man with the long

“Yes,” Alice said. The man who hunted her, faceless, through her nightmares.

“When we get out we’ll find him, and then you’ll know what happened to you,” Hatcher said.

That had been eight years before, and they were both still there, rooms side-by-side in a hospital that had no intention of ever letting them go.

“Alice?” Hatcher said again. “I can’t sleep.”

She blinked away the memory, brought on by the moon and the sound of his voice.

“I can’t sleep either, Hatch,” she said, crawling along the floor to the mouse-hole. It was much darker down here. There was no light in their rooms save that of the silver moon through the bars, and the occasional passage of a lamp by the attendant walking the halls. She could not see the color of his eyes, only the wet gleam of them.

“The Jabberwock’s awake, Alice,” Hatcher said.

It was then she noticed his voice was thin and reedy. Hatcher wasn’t often afraid. Mostly he seemed strong, almost relentlessly so. All day long she heard him in his room, grunting with effort as she went through his exercises. When the attendants came to take Hatcher to his bath there was always a lot of noise, punching and kicking and yelling. More than once Alice heard the crunch of bone, the angry curse of an attendant.

She asked once how come he didn’t get injections like all the other troublemakers. He’d grinned, his gray eyes crinkling at the corners, and said the injection had made him wild, wilder than before, so after that they left him alone. He didn’t even get powders in his food.

Hatcher was never scared, except when he talked about the Jabberwock.

“There’s no Jabberwock, Hatch,” Alice said, her voice low and soothing. She heard tales of the monster before. Not often, although lately it seemed to be on his mind more.

“I know you don’t believe in him. But he’s here, Alice. They keep him downstairs, in the basement. And when he’s awake I can feel him,” Hatcher said.

There was a pleading note under the fear, and Alice relented. After all, she believed in a man with rabbit-ears, and Hatcher accepted that without question.

“What can you feel?” she asked.

“I feel the night crawling up all around, blotting out the moon. I feel blood running down the walls, rivers of it in the streets below. And I feel his teeth closing around me. That’s what he’ll do, Alice, if he’s ever set free. He’s been imprisoned here a long time, longer than you or me.”

“How could anyone trap such a beast?” Alice wondered.

Hatcher shifted restlessly on the floor. She could hear him moving around. “I don’t know for sure,” he said, and his voice was quieter now, so that she had to strain to hear him. “I think a Magician must have done it.”

“A Magician?” Alice asked. This was more farfetched that anything Hatcher had said before. “All the Magicians are gone. They were driven out or killed centuries ago, during the purge. This place is not that old. How could a Magician have capture the Jabberwock and imprisoned it here?”

“Only a Magician would have the skill,” Hatcher insisted. “No ordinary man would survive the encounter.”

Alice was willing to indulge his fantasy of a monster in the basement, but she couldn’t countenance this myth about a magician. It didn’t seem wise to argue, though. Hatcher took no powders and had no injections, and sometimes he could get agitated. If he got agitated he might howl for hours, or beat his hands against the wall until they were bloody despite the padding.

So she said nothing, only listened to his shallow breath, and the cried of the other inmates echoing through the building.

“I wish I could hold your hand,” Hatcher said. “I’ve never seen you all together, you know. Just bits through the hole. I try to put all the bits together in my head so I can see all of you, but it doesn’t look quite right.”

“In my head you’re just gray eyes and a beard,” Alice said.

Hatcher laughed softly, but there was no mirth in it. “Like the Rabbit, just eyes and fur. What would have happened if we met on the street, Alice? Would we have said hello?”

She hesitated for a moment. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but neither did she want to lie. Her parents lied. They said things like, “You’re looking well” and “We’re sure you’ll be home soon,” things Alice knew were not true.

“Alice?” Hatcher asked again, and brought her back to him.

“I don’t know if we would have seen each other to say hello,” she said carefully. “I lived in the New City and, I think…you seem like you were from the Old City.”

“Well, la-dee-dah,” Hatcher said, and his voice was hard. “Fancy girl wouldn’t soil her dainty hem in the Old City. Except you did. You got good and soiled. And now you’re here, just like me.”

His words were like knotted fists to her gut, and all the breath seemed to leave her for a moment. But they were true words, and she would not pretend otherwise. The truth was all she had left. The truth, and Hatcher.

“Yes,” she said. “We are both here.”

There was a long silence between them. Alice waited in the darkness, the moonlight shifting on the floor. Hatcher seemed to be walking the knife’s edge tonight, and she would not be the one to knock him off.

“I am sorry, Alice,” he said finally, and he sounded more like the Hatch she knew.

“Don’t,” she started, but he cut her off.

“I should not say such things,” he said. “You’re my only light, Alice. Without you I would have succumbed to this place long ago. But the Jabberwock is awake, and he makes me think of things I should not.”

“The sound of a blade in flesh,” she said, echoing the memory of his words.

“And warm blood on my hands,” Hatcher said, “I feel most like myself when I think those thoughts. As if that is who I really am.”

“At least you have some idea,” Alice said. “I never had the chance to find out. I lost my way first.”

She heard him shifting again on the floor.

“I feel like I’ve got bugs inside my skin,” he said. “Sing me a song.”

“I don’t know any songs,” she said, surprised by this request.

“Yes, you do,” he said. “You sing it all day long, and when you’re not singing it you’re humming. Something about a butterfly.”

“A butterfly?” she asked, but as soon as she said this it came back to her, and she heard her mother’s voice in head. This sound was so painful, piercing her heart, this remembrance of love that was lost to her forever. She began to sing aloud, to cover the memory with her own voice.

“Sleep little butterfly

Sleep little butterfly

Now the day has gone

Sleep little butterfly

Sleep little butterfly

Soon the morning will come

Close your eyes and let the night go ‘round you

He’ll keep you safe and warm

Sleep little butterfly

Sleep little butterfly

Soon the morning will come.”

Her voice trailed off, her throat full of love and loss and pain. Hatcher said nothing, but she heard his breath go deep and even, and she let her eyes fall shut. She matched her breath to his, and it was almost like holding his hand as the night closed in.

Alice dreamed of blood. Blood on her hands and under her feet, blood in her mouth and pouring from her eyes. The room was filled with it. Outside the door Hatcher stood hand in hand with something dark and hideous, a thing crafted of shadow with flashing silver teeth.

“Don’t take him from me,” she said, or tried to say, but she could not speak through the blood in her mouth, choking her. Her eyes were covered with smoke then, and she couldn’t see Hatch or the monster anymore. Heat enfolded her body, and then there was nothing but fire.

Fire. Fire.

“Alice, wake up! The hospital is on fire.”

Alice opened her eyes. Hatcher’s gray one was pressed to the mouse-hole, and it was wild with fear and anticipation.

“At last!” he said. “Stay low, away from the smoke, and get near the door but not in front of it.”

Alice blinked as he disappeared. The dream still clung to her brain, and her mouth was dry. Her shift clung to her body, and her face was wet with sweat. The odor of smoke finally permeated her nostrils and her fuzzy head, and there was another smell, too – like cooking meat. She didn’t want to think what that might be.

Alice turned so she was flat on her back, and saw a thick blanket of smoke just a few inches from her face. The heat beneath made the floor an agony to lie upon, but there was no way to escape it.

The sounds filtered in then. The crack of flame, of heavy objects crashing to the ground. Horrible, horrible screams. And close by, the repeated grunts and pounding of someone slamming his body into the wall. Hatch was trying to break the door down in his room.

The noise was terrible. Alice did not think it was possible. The walls might be soft, but the doors were iron. He would kill himself.

“Hatcher, no!” she cried, but he could not hear her.

There was a sound of something crunching, but Hatcher did not cry out, and then there was no more noise.

“Hatcher,” she said, and her voice was soft and sad. Two tears leaked from the corner of each eye. There was no point in getting up then, if Hatcher was gone. The smoke and the noise told Alice that the fire was well underway. The attendants and the doctors would not bother to free the patients, especially when most families would be thrilled to be free of the burden of their mad relatives. So they would all burn.

Alice found she was not as distressed about this as she ought to be. Perhaps it was the powder in last night’s dinner, or the smoke that filled her lungs in place of air. She felt very calm. She would just lie there and wait until the fire came.

Her eyes closed again, and she drifted away, away to a place she had never been in real life, a silver lake tucked in a green valley, wildflowers dotting the shore. There was no smell of medicine there, or harsh burning soap. There was no smoke and no pain, no heartache and no blood. It was the place she always went, the place where her mind hid when the doctors asked questions she did not want to answer, or her parents sighed in disappointment.

Something grabbed her around the shoulders, and her eyes flew open in shock. It had been years since anyone touched her except to drag her to the bath. Hatcher’s face was close to hers, twisted in anger, and blood ran from a cut on the side of his head.

“I told you to get near the door, you silly nit,” he said, dragging her up to sitting and then immediately pushing her down to her belly.

“Follow me,” he said, crawling toward the door.

The open door.

She followed automatically, keeping his filthy bare heels in sight. She wanted to ask how he had gotten out, how he wasn’t battered and dead. But he was moving along with surprising quickness into the hall. He paused after a few moments so she could catch up to him. There was no one except the two of them, and the frantic pounding of other patients still trapped in their boxes.

It was then she noticed his right arm hung at an odd angle and he was using only his left to pull his body along. “Hatch, what happened?” she asked. She was out of breath from just that short period of exertion.

“It came out when I broke the door frame,” he said. “I’ll fix it later. We have to go. The floor is getting hotter, and he’s almost out.”

“Who?” Alice asked.

He started along again. “The Jabberwock.”

“Hatch,” she said, trying to keep up with him. Her lungs and throat were burning. “We’re going the wrong way. The stairs are behind us.”

“The stairs are on fire,” Hatch said. “I’ve already checked. We’ve got to go out this way.”

“But, Hatch,” Alice said, shaking her head from side to side to clear it. The smoke was getting to her. “We’re on the third floor.”

“We’ll go out the back to the river. Just keep up, Alice.”

“The river?” she said, and a faint alarm sounded in her head. There was something about the river, but she couldn’t recall exactly what it was.

Just then they passed the door of a patient who was repeatedly throwing himself against the iron and screaming. The cloud of smoke above them blocked the small viewing window, so Alice was fairly certain the man could not see them escaping. She felt a tinge of guilt all the same as they went by.

“What about the others?” Alice asked. “Shouldn’t we let them out?”

“There is no time,” Hatcher said. “And they would only be millstones in any case. They’ve no sense. We’d have to lead them from here like children. And then what? Would we take them with us? No, Alice, it’s best to leave them as they are. We must get away before he’s free.”

It was a cold thing he said, but true. Not the bit about the Jabberwock getting free, but the other part. They would not be able to safely lead them to freedom without endangering their own lives.

Hatcher reached the end of the hallway before Alice did. He came to his knees, and she noticed he held a small ring of keys in his left hand.

“Where did you get those?” she asked.

“From the attendant at the top of the stairs. How do you think I opened your door?” he asked as he methodically fitted first one key, then another, then another.

“There was nobody in the corridor when we came out,” she said.

“I took his keys and threw him down the stairs. That’s how I knew the steps were on fire,” he said.

The fifth key clicked, and Hatcher pushed the door open, waving her inside the room.

A cloud of smoke followed them in before Hatcher was able to close the door behind them, but it dissipated quickly as the far window was open. The heavy seething air of the city, hardly fresh, poured into the room. Still, it had been years since Alice had smelled anything but the rank asylum – unwashed bodies, laudanum, chloroform, vomit and blood and burning soap over it all. By contrast the soot and refuse outside seemed like a burst of clean country breeze.

Suddenly a head appeared in the window from outside. It was one of the attendants, a ginger-haired man with only half a nose. His eyes widened when he saw Hatcher and Alice in the room, and he started to climb back inside.

Before the man could get any farther than throwing one leg over the sill Hatcher was upon him. He punched the man in the face hard with his left hand, twice, three times. Then he kicked the man in the side so hard Alice heard ribs break. Finally he pushed the now unconscious attendant out the window, looking out after the falling man to follow his progress to the river below.

He nodded in satisfaction before turning back to Alice. “I was the one who bit half his nose off. He was coming back to make sure we couldn’t get out, do you see? He would never have let us leave.”

CHAPTER TWO

 

Alice nodded. She did see. The smoke must have gone up in her brain because everything seemed soft at the edges.

“There’s a ledge out here,” Hatcher said.

He went to the wall next to the window, grabbed his right wrist with his left hand, pushed his hanging right arm against the wall, and did some kind of maneuver while Alice watched. When he turned back to her his right arm appeared normal again. He flexed his fingers as if to ensure they were still functional. Throughout all of this he never made a sound, not even a hint that the process was painful, though Alice was certain it must have been. He held his hand out so she could join him by the window.

She approached him, and gasped in shock when his hand closed around hers. It seemed like an electric current ran from their joined hands up into her heart, which hammered in her chest. His gray eyes sparked, and he squeezed her hand tighter for a moment. When you are in an asylum no one ever touches you in kindness, and Alice knew the shock was as great for him.

He said nothing as he released her. He climbed through the window on to the ledge, and Alice followed him, because that was what she was supposed to do.

She swung her left leg over the sill. Her shift rode up, exposing her skin to the morning chill, and she shivered. She supposed it wasn’t so terribly cold out, but after the furnace of the burning hospital the outdoors seemed frigid.

Alice ducked her head under the sash and saw the ledge Hatcher wanted her to reach. Below it, too far below for comfort, was the river, gray and putrid. Now that she saw it she remembered what she had forgotten before.

Hatcher moved on the ledge behind her, and his hands were at her waist, guiding her out until they stood side by side, their backs pasted against the brick exterior of the hospital. The ledge was barely wide enough to admit the length of Alice’s feet. Hatcher’s toes curled around the edge as if that grip could save him from falling.

His expression was fierce and exultant. “We’re outside, Alice. We’re out.

“Yes,” she said, and her thrill at this prospect was much tempered by the sight of the river. Now that she was away from the smoke her mind was clearer, and this plan seemed more risky than trying to climb down a set of burning stairs. The stench of the water reached her then, and she gagged.

Hatcher grabbed her hand to keep her from stumbling forward into the empty air. “We jump into the river,” he said, “and swim across to the opposite bank. We can disappear into the Old City after that. No one will look for us in there. They will think we’re dead.”

“Yes,” she agreed again. “But we’re not supposed to go into the river. It will kill us. All the factories dump their waste there. I remember Father speaking of it. He said it was an outrage.”

“Neither can we stay here,” Hatcher said. “If the fire does not consume us then they will catch is in their nets and put us back in our cages. I cannot go back, Alice. I cannot spend the remainder of my life as a moth beating its wings against a jar. I would rather perish in the mouth of the Jabberwock than that.”

Alice saw the truth of this, and felt it in her heart as well. She did not want to go back inside the box they had made for her. But the river was so far below, churning with poison. What if their skin was seared from their bodies? What if they swallowed the river water and died writhing on the shore as the foul substance coursed in their blood?

As these thoughts occurred a burst of flame caused a nearby window to explode outward, startling a huddle of soot-coated pigeons that had taken foolish refuge on the same ledge Alice and Hatcher perched on. The birds took flight, squawking in protest, and Alice looked at Hatcher, knowing he saw the fear in her eyes.

“Now we must fly,” he said. “Trust me.”

She did. She always had, though she didn’t know why. He squeezed her hand, and the next thing Alice knew she was falling, falling away into a rabbit’s hole.

“Don’t let go,” Hatcher shouted just before they hit the water.

His grip on her fingers tightened painfully, and she cried out, but he didn’t let go. Which was a very good thing, because as soon as the horrible muck coated her head she reflexively loosed her hold, and if Hatcher hadn’t been holding her that way, she would have drowned.

He yanked her, coughing and gagging, to the surface, scooped an arm under her ribs and began paddling toward the shore. “Kick your feet.”

She fluttered her ankles weakly in the water. It felt thick and strange, with none of the fluid slipperiness water was supposed to possess. It moved sluggishly, the current hardly enough to push them a few inches off course. A noxious vapor rose from the surface, making her eyes and nose burn.

Because of the way Hatcher held her she couldn’t see his face or the opposite shore that the approached. His breath was smooth and even, like he was unaffected by the miasma floating above the surface of the river. He pulled them both along with smooth, sure strokes as Alice floundered in the water, trying not to cause them both to go under.

She saw the asylum burning behind them, as tongues of flame emerged from newly opened windows. The distance and roar of the fire drowned out the sound of the inmates screaming. There were people running around the sides of the building, trying to stop the spread to the adjacent structures. She had never given much thought to the places around the hospital before.

On one side was a long, low building crouched against the bank of the river like a squat turtle. That must have been on the side that Alice’s room had been, else she wouldn’t have been able to see the moon. The edifice on the opposite side was huge, much bigger than the hospital, and the smoke belching from its chimneys seemed as thick and dangerous as that pouring from her former home.

“Put your feet down,” Hatcher said suddenly, and Alice realized he was walking now, not swimming.

Her toes sank into the muck, and the water was still up to her neck, but they were nearly there. A small knot of people were gathered a little ways down the bank on a jetty, pointing and exclaiming over the collapsing asylum.

“I see them,” Hatcher said in a low voice. “Over here.”

He guided her toward a place where the shadows lay thick despite the rising sun, away from the flickering exposure of the gas lamps set at intervals to alleviate the fog from the river and the factories. Alice fell to her hands and knees just out of the water, taking great gasps of air. Even a few feet from the river the air was noticeably cleaner, though hardly what one would call clean, she thought.

Everywhere was the stench of the water, the reek of smoke and flame, the chemical burn of factory exhaust. Underneath it all was the smell of the morning’s cooking coming from the warren of flats just before them.

Hatcher had done much more than Alice to get them out of the burning hospital and through the disgusting river, yet he had not collapsed like she had when they emerged from the water. He stood beside her, still and calm. Alice rolled to her seat and looked up at him. He stared, transfixed, at the fiery structure across the water. He stood so still that she began to worry, and she struggled to her feet.

“Hatcher?” she asked, and touched his arm.

His hair and clothes were steaming now that they were on shore, and he was coated in the filth they had just crossed. His gray eyes glowed in the reflection of the fire, like the coals of hell, and when he turned those eyes on her she felt, for the first time, a little afraid of him. This was not Hatch, her constant companion through the mouse-hole. Nor was this the man who had methodically rescued her from a burning building. This was Hatcher, the murderer with the axe, the man who had been found covered in blood and surrounded by bodies.

But he would never hurt you, Alice told herself. He’s still Hatch, somewhere in there. He’s just lost himself for a moment.

She put her hands on his shoulders, tentatively, and said his name again, for he stared at her but did not seem to see. Then his hands were at her wrists, his grip bruising the thin skin, and his iron eyes were wild.

“He’s out, he’s out, he’s out,” he chanted. “Now the world will break and burn and bleed, everyone will bleed.”

“The Jabberwock?” Alice said.

“His mouth will open wide and we will all fall in, fall in and be devoured,” Hatcher said. “We must get away, away before he finds me. He knows I can hear him. He knows that I know what evil he will do.”

Suddenly there was a tremendous noise from the asylum, a sound like the very heart of the building crashing in on itself. Alice and Hatcher turned to watch, and all the walls collapsed like a melting sandcastle. There seemed to be nothing but fire now, and the fire shot impossibly upward into the sky, well past the point where there was anything to burn. It filled the horizon, the wings of a monster outstretched.

Behind the flame was a darkness, a gigantic shadow that spread, as if something that was trapped was now free, reaching its arms toward the sun.

“Is that…him?” Alice asked. She’d never believed in the Jabberwock, not really. And perhaps there was no shadow at all. She was exhausted, and had spent some time breathing smoke and poison. Her brain might tell her there was a shadow when in fact there was none. That was the trouble with not being right in the head. You couldn’t always tell if your eyes were telling the truth.

Hatcher did not reply to her question. He stared for a moment at the tower of flame, and then grabbed Alice’s right wrist, tugging her up the bank. The mud inhibited fast progress, but they finally managed to clamber on to the narrow cobbled path that ran around and between the warrens of tilting structures stacked crazily against one another.

The Old City seemed to have no beginning and no end, a circling maze of stairways and narrow alleys connecting buildings that had been patched and rebuilt on top of crumbling ruins for centuries. There was nothing gleaming and new there, not even the children, who seemed to be birthed with haunted eyes.

Hatcher ducked into the nearest alley, pulling Alice after him. The rough stones scraped her bare feet, but she understood the need to disappear quickly. Aside from the question of the Jabberwock, Alice had recognized the distinctive brass-buttoned gleam of a copper’s uniform. Never mind if the asylum was naught but a cinder now. If they were caught out in their hospital whites the police would drag them away. And Alice had a feeling Hatcher would not go quietly.

So they dipped and darted beneath the girls with their customers pressed up against the alley walls, or old men gathered in clusters around a shell game or a cockfight. Hatcher led them deeper into the Old City, to a place where the rising sun was blocked by the closeness of the buildings and the air was blanketed in fog from the factories. Mist rose from the cobblestones, hiding approaching figures until they were nearly upon you.

Which is how the men surrounded them.

Hatcher paused for a moment, seeing Alice out of breath and suffering. He did not pat or comfort her, but waited. In that moment that they were still an enormous ogre loomed out of the darkness and swung a club at Hatcher. Alice opened her mouth to scream, but a filthy hand covered it and another hand latched on her breast, squeezing it so hard tears sprang to her eyes.

“What have we here?” a rough voice cooed in her ear. “A little lost lamb?”

She kicked out, tried to slip out of his clutch as Hatcher and the ogre- whom she now saw was a man, the largest man she had ever seen – disappeared into the fog. Her struggles were useless against her captor’s strength as he dragged her away.

His free hand moved from her breast to the hem of shift, pulling it to her waist, his fingers on her thighs, and she went wild then, biting down on the hand that covered her mouth because she remembered, remembered a man over her in the flickering light, pushing between her legs and it hurt, she screamed because it hurt, but he kept at it until she bled.

The man who held her now swore as he felt her teeth but he did not let go. “Little hellion,” he snarled, and slammed her forehead against the brick wall.

She went limp and dazed then for a moment, and something wet and sticky covered her eyes. Then she was on the ground on her belly, her bare thighs scraping against the stones, and his hands were on her bottom, pulling her legs apart.

Just go away, she thought. You’re not here, you’re in a green field in a valley, and the sun is shining down, and here comes someone smiling at you, someone who loves you.

Then the hands on her were gone and she heard the sound of flesh meeting flesh. She rolled to one side, her shift still up around her waist, and wiped the stickiness from her eyes.

Hatcher was pounding her attacker repeatedly with his fists. He had pushed the man’s back against the wall and was methodically reducing the man’s face to an unrecognizable blob of jelly. After several moments Hatcher released the man, who fell limp to the ground. He did not appear to be breathing.

Hatcher turned to Alice, his chest heaving. He was covered in blood, his hands and his chest and his face. His eyes went from the cut on her head to her bare waist, and lingered there for a moment. Then he said, “Cover yourself” and turned away to search the man’s pockets.

Alice pulled the shift down to her knees again and used the wall to help her stand. She leaned there for a moment and her body began to shake all over. When Hatcher turned back her teeth were chattering. He held a small pouch in one hand.

“Full of gold,” he said, nudging the limp body with his toe. “Probably a slave trader. He would have used you and then sold you.”

“I th-th-think I w-w-was sold before,” she said. She had a memory of money changing hands, of seeing a smaller hand being filled with gold from a larger one.

“By the man with the long ears, or to him?” Hatcher asked.

She shook her head. There had only been that flash of terror, of memory best forgotten. There had been a man, but she couldn’t remember his face. Then her mind reasserted itself, keeping her safe.

He paused in front of her, a savage splattered with the blood of her attacker, and there was something about his face that was oddly vulnerable.

“May I…?”he asked, and he mimed putting his arm around her shoulder.

Everything inside her clenched and cried no. Then the moment passed, and she remembered how he had stared at her bare legs but turned away instead of falling on her like a ravening wolf. She nodded, and saw relief on his face.

His arm went around and pulled her tight to his body for a moment, so she could feel the coiled strength in him. Then he loosened enough so she could walk, but did not let go. They returned to the place where the ogre had attacked. Alice saw the body of the larger man there. He still breathed shallowly through the broken mess where his teeth used to be. Near by on the ground was the club he had used on Hatcher. It was actually just a thick rod of wood with a slightly oversized end. It was broken in two pieces.

“We must get inside somewhere,” Hatcher said.

“Where can we go that’s safe?” Alice asked. “Does this place seem familiar to you?”

“It does,” he admitted. “Though I don’t know why. From the moment we stepped inside the Old City my feet have been leading us someplace.”

“Someplace safe?” she asked. The cold was in her bones now, making her tremble all over despite the warmth of Hatcher holding her close. She was hungry and tired and more scared than she could ever remember being. For a brief moment she longed for the certainty of the hospital, the security of four walls around her.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s been many years since I’ve been here. Some places look the same. More the same than you’d think. And others seem much different, though I can’t put my finger on why.”

“I don’t think your memory is as gone as you think it is,” Alice said. “You remember things like the time of Magicians. And that men like that sell girls like me. And you know the city. You’ve only forgotten who you are.”

“No,” Hatcher said. “I know who I am now. I’ve forgotten who I was before. Probably for the best. You might not like who I was then. I might not, either.”

Alice remembered who she was before. She just couldn’t recall what happened to that girl to make her this girl. And given the flashes she’d just seen that was probably for the best. Hatcher was right. Maybe not remembering was better.

She shook under his arm. He rubbed his shoulder with his hand, fruitlessly trying to impart heat.

“I can’t get warm,” she said.

“We’re nearly there.”

“Nearly where?”

“I don’t know. It’s where my feet are leading us. It’s someplace safe.”

Alice noticed they’d emerged from the maze of alleys into a thoroughfare. It wasn’t packed, but there were plenty of people going about their morning’s business. Women with their heads wrapped in scarves against the chill, carrying baskets of eggs and cabbage and fish wrapped in paper. Men leading donkeys laden with coal or firewood, or making quiet trades on the sly. Boys in ragged caps and bare feet pinching apples from carts when the proprietor wasn’t looking.

Everyone who saw Alice and Hatcher averted their eyes and veered away, but the two of them did not seem to cause sufficient alarm that the police were called, for which Alice was grateful. None of these folk would want the authorities sniffing around, for she was certain that more than fruit and coal was being sold off those carts. Every person made it clear that no help was to be found there, but no hindrance, either.

“When we arrive,” Hatcher said. “There will be an old woman, and she will know me, and she will let us in.”

Alice wondered who this old woman was, and why Hatcher was so sure she would help. She wanted to ask, but Hatcher probably would not know the answer, anyway. And her stomach was starting to churn, even though there was nothing in it. If they’d still been in their rooms the morning porridge would have come hours ago. Alice coughed, and tasted something foul in the back of her throat.

“I feel sick,” she moaned.

“Nearly there,” Hatcher said, steering her around the corner of a storefront selling healing potions and down another alley.

“I won’t make it,” Alice said, and broken away from Hatcher to heave against the wall.

Her stomach wrenched upward, her throat burning but all that came out were a few thin drools of bile. Alice leaned her aching forehead against the cool brick and winced when the rough surface scraped against the scabbed knot given her by the man who would have raped her. The nausea had not passed. Instead the outburst had only made her feel worse.

“Just a little farther,” Hatcher said, tugging at her hand, her shoulder. “It’s the powder making you sick.”

“I haven’t had my powder today,” Alice said.

“Precisely,” Hatcher said. “How many years have you had a powder with breakfast and supper?”

“Ever since I went to hospital,” Alice said.

It was a terrible struggle to put one foot in front of the other. She could barely lift her leg from the ground. Her toes curled under and scraped along the stone, the skin there peeling away and leaving it raw.

Hatcher badgered and dragged her the last few feet. When finally they reached the plain wooden door tucked in a notch halfway down the alley Alice was on the verge of collapse.

Hatcher pounded on the door with his fist, his other arm keeping Alice from folding up in a heap on the ground. The door opened and a very small woman, knotted and ancient, appeared in the opening. She wore a blue dress covered by a faded red shawl. Her hair was white, and her eyes were as gray as Hatcher’s. She took one long look at him, and Alice thought she heard a little sigh.

Then the woman said, “Nicholas. I’ve been waiting for you for three days.”

 

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Apr 162015
 

If she moved her head all the way up against the wall and tilted it to the left she could just see the edge of the moon through the bars. Just a silver sliver, almost close enough to eat. A sliver of cheese, a sliver of cake, a cup of tea to be polite. Someone had given her a cup of tea once, someone with blue-green eyes and long ears. Funny how she couldn’t remember his face, though. All that part was hazy, her memory of him wrapped in smoke but for the eyes and ears. And the ears were long and furry.

When they found her all she would say was, “The Rabbit. The Rabbit. The Rabbit.” Over and over. When she acted like that they said she was mad. Alice knew she wasn’t mad. Maybe. Not deep down. But the powders they gave her made the world all muzzy and sideways and sometimes she felt mad.

Everything had happened just as she said, when she could say something besides “Rabbit.” She and Dor went into the Old City for Dor’s birthday. Sixteenth birthday. Sixteen candles on your cake, a sliver of cake and a cup of tea for you, my dear. They both went in, but only Alice came out. Two weeks later came Alice, covered in blood, babbling about tea and a rabbit, wearing a dress that wasn’t hers. Red running down the insides of her legs and blue marks on her thighs were fingers had been.

Her hand went without thought to her left cheek, touched the long thick scar that followed the line of bone from her hairline to the top of her lip. Her face had been flayed open when they found her, and she couldn’t say how or why. It had been open for a long while, the blood oozing from it gone black and brackish, the skin around it tattered at the edges. The doctors told her parents they had done their best, but she would never be beautiful again.

Her sister said it was her own fault. If she had stayed out of the Old City as she was supposed to, this never would have happened. There was a reason why they lived in the New City, the ring of shiny new buildings that kept the Old City at bay. The Old City wasn’t for people like them. It was for the filth you threw away. All children were warned about the dangers of straying to the Old City. Alice didn’t belong there.

The hospital where Alice had lived for the last ten years was in the Old City, so her sister was wrong. Alice did belong there.

Sometimes her parents came to visit, doing their duty; their noses wrinkled like she was something that smelled bad, even though the attendants always dragged her out and gave her a bath first. She hated the baths. They were icy cold and rough with scrubbing, and she was never permitted to clean herself. If she struggled or cried out they would hit her with the bath brush or pinch hard enough to leave a mark, always somewhere that couldn’t be seen, the side of her breast or the soft part of her belly, with a promise of “more where that came from” unless she behaved.

Her parents didn’t visit so much anymore. Alice couldn’t really remember the last time, but she knew it had been a long time. The days all ran together in her room, no books to read, no things to do. Hatcher said she should exercise so she would be fit when she got out, but somewhere in her heart Alice knew she would never get out. She was a broken thing, and the New City did not like broken things. They liked the new and the whole. Alice hardly recalled when she was new and whole. That girl seemed like someone else she’d known once, long ago and far away.

“Alice?” A voice through the mouse hole.

Many years before, a mouse had gotten into the wall and chewed through the batting between her cell and Hatcher’s. Alice didn’t know what had happened to the mouse. Probably caught in a trap in the kitchens, or went out on the riverside and drowned. But the mouse had led her to Hatcher, a rough voice coming through the wall. She had really thought she’d gone round the bend at first, hearing voices coming from nowhere.

“Hey, you,” the voice had said.

She’d looked around wildly, afraid, and scuttled into a corner on the far side of the window, opposite the door.

“Hey, you. Down here,” the voice said.

Alice had resolutely put her fingers in her ears. Everyone knew hearing voices was a sign of madness, and she’d promised herself she would not be mad no matter what they said, no matter how she felt. After several moments of happy silence she released her fingers and looked around the room in relief.

A great sigh exhaled from the walls. “The mouse hole, you nit.”

Alice stared in alarm at the small opening in the corner opposite. Somehow a talking mouse was worse than voices in her head. If mice were talking, then there really were men with blue-green eyes and long furry ears. And while she didn’t remember his face, she did remember she’d been afraid. She stared at the mouse hole like something horrible might suddenly emerge from it, like the Rabbit might unfold himself from that space and finish whatever he had started.

Another, this one shorter and much more impatient. “You’re not hearing bloody voices and a mouse is not speaking to you. I’m in the room next to yours and I can see you through the hole. You’re not crazy and there’s no magic, so will you please come here and speak with me before I go madder than I already have?”

“If you’re not in my head and you’re not magic, then how do you know what I’m thinking?” Alice asked, her voice suspicious. She was beginning to wonder whether this wasn’t some trick of the doctors, some way to draw her into a trap.

The attendants gave her a powder with her breakfast and dinner, to “keep her calm,” they said. But she knew that those powders still allowed her some freedom to be Alice, to think and dream and try to remember the lost bits of her life. When they took her out of her room for a bath or a visit, she sometimes saw other patients, people standing still with dead eyes and drool on their chins, people who were alive and didn’t know it. Those people were “difficult to deal with.” They got injections instead of powders. Alice didn’t want injections, so she wasn’t going to say or do anything that would alarm the doctors. Doctors who might be trying to trick her with voices in the wall.

“I know what you’re thinking, because that’s what I’d be thinking if I were you,” the voice said. “We’re in the loony bin, aren’t we? Now, come over and have a look through the hole and you’ll see.”

She stood cautiously, still unsure it was not a trick, whether of her mind or the doctors. She crossed under the window and crouched by the mouse hole.

“All I can see are your knees,” the voice complained. “Come all the way down, won’t you?”

Alice lowered to her stomach, keeping her head well away from the opening. She had a vague fear that a needle might flash through the hole and plunge into her eye.

Once her cheek was on the ground she could see through the small, tight opening. On the other side was an iron grey eye and part of a nose. There was a bulge just where the rest of the nose disappeared from view, like it might have been broken once. It didn’t look like any doctor she knew, but Alice wasn’t taking any chances. “Let me see your whole face,” she said.

“Good,” the grey eye said. “You’re thinking. That’s good. Not just a pretty face, then.”

Alice’s hand moved automatically to cover her scar; then she remembered she was lying on that side of her face and he couldn’t really see it anyway. Let him think she was pretty if he wanted. It would be nice to be pretty to someone even with her fair hair all snarled and nothing to wear but a woolen shift. She heard the swish-swish of wool on batting as the grey eye moved away from the hole and became two grey eyes, a long broken nose and a bushy black beard with flecks of white in it.

“All right, then?” the voice asked. “I’m Hatcher.”

And that was how they met. Hatcher was ten years older than Alice, and nobody ever came to see him.

“Why are you here?” she asked one day, long after they were friends, or at least friends who never really saw each other.

“I killed a lot of people with an ,” he said. “That’s how I got my name. Hatcher.”

“What was your name before?” Alice asked. She was surprisingly undisturbed by the knowledge that her new friend was an axe murderer. It seemed unrelated to who he was now, the rough voice and grey eyes through the hole in the wall.

“I don’t remember,” he said. “I don’t remember anything from before, really. They found me with a bloodied axe in my hand and five people dead around me all slashed to pieces. I tried to do the same for the police when they came for me, so I must have killed those people.”

“Why did you do it?”

“Don’t remember,” he said, and his voice change a little, became hard. “It’s like there’s this haze over my eyes, black smoke filling everything up. I remember the weight of the axe in my hand, and the hot blood on my face, in my mouth. I remember the sound of the blade in soft flesh.”

“I remember that too,” Alice said, although she didn’t know why she said that. For a moment it had been true, though. She could hear the sound of a knife piercing skin, that sliding slicing noise, and someone screaming.

“Did you kill a lot of people too?” Hatcher asked.

“I don’t know,” Alice said. “I might have.”

“It’s all right if you did,” Hatcher said. “I would understand.”

“I really don’t know,” Alice said. “I remember before and I remember after, but that fortnight is gone, save for a few flashes.”

“The man with the long ears.”

“Yes,” Alice said. The man who hunted her, faceless, through her nightmares.

“When we get out we’ll find him, and then you’ll know what happened to you,” Hatcher said.

That had been eight years before, and they were both still there, rooms side by side in a hospital that had no intention of ever letting them go.

From ALICE, Ace trade release August 4, 2015. Preorder here:

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