Serial Part 3

This is the third installment of a novel I’m serializing, posting chapters on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The first chapter is here, and the previous chapter is here. Feel free to spread the word to others who might enjoy it. For updates on when each chapter is posted, you can follow me on Twitter.

Chapter Three

            Dawn’s aunts spent her entire birthday cleaning the house top-to-bottom. She couldn’t think of why they’d made her stay home, since they wouldn’t let her help. They just had her sit nearby and sing for them while they worked. For perhaps the first time in her life, she was tired of singing and desperately wanted to do something else, even pick up a brush and help scrub, but they wouldn’t let her leave whichever room they were working on at the time.

“It will be sunset in a few hours,” Matilda said when they finished scrubbing the bathroom late in the day. She sounded awfully pleased about that.

“That means we’d better hurry and finish,” Mariel said.

“I could help,” Dawn offered.

“No, dear, you just sit and sing like a good girl,” Matilda said, patting her on the top of the head. “Your music makes the work go faster for us.”

“The timing of sunset does vary from place to place,” Miriam said. She picked up her bucket of cleaning tools and led the group through the living room to the kitchen. “Sunset here doesn’t mean anything.”

“Is something supposed to happen at sunset—here or somewhere else?” Dawn asked.

Mariel and Matilda turned to glare at Miriam, who flushed pink. “I only meant that we wanted to have the work done by sunset, but if we didn’t finish, we could console ourselves with the fact that it’s still daylight somewhere,” Miriam said.

Dawn laughed. “I’ll have to remember that the next time I want to stay up past my bedtime. It’s still earlier somewhere else.”

As she followed her aunts through the living room, Dawn glanced at the grandfather clock. It was nearly four, plenty of time after school let out for Lucy to have made it downtown to the theater to check the audition results. Why hadn’t she called yet?

The thought crossed her mind that the aunts might have forgotten to pay the phone bill. She said she needed a bathroom break and stopped by the phone niche in the hallway to check for a dial tone. The phone was still working. Then it occurred to her that it was Lucy’s birthday, too, and her mother was having a big party that night. Lucy was probably busy, and it had been selfish of Dawn to ask her to run an errand for her. She’d find out soon enough if she got the part.

When they finished cleaning, the aunts sent Dawn off to her room to change for dinner. “Your best dress, mind you,” Matilda said. “This is a special occasion. And brush your hair.” Dawn put a record on and hummed softly along with it while she changed into a lacy white dress and put a bow in her hair.

She came back to the living room to find Matilda peering through the curtains into the back yard. “I think the sun has set!” she called out.

Mariel went to the sideboard and poured a red liquid from a crystal decanter into three tiny stemmed glasses, then hesitated, glanced at Dawn, and poured a smaller amount of liquid into a fourth glass. She handed the glasses to the other aunts, then the one with the smallest amount to Dawn. “You are sixteen, after all,” she said with a rare smile. “You might as well get your first taste.”

“Like I told you earlier, the sun sets at different times in different places,” Miriam muttered. “The days may not even line up properly.”

Mariel ignored her and raised her glass. Matilda immediately followed suit, so enthusiastically that some of the liquid sloshed over the rim of her glass. Mariel glared at Miriam until she, too, raised her glass. “To our Dawn on her sixteenth birthday,” Mariel said. “And to the beginning of the rest of her life.” Miriam downed her drink in one gulp, her eyes still narrowed into a frown, while Matilda sipped daintily at hers, her pinky extended. “Go on, drink up,” Mariel encouraged Dawn. Dawn took a sip, then had to gasp for breath. It tasted like a combination of cherries and gasoline. Surely this couldn’t be what the popular kids drank on weekends for fun. Mariel patted her on the back while she sputtered and coughed.

“And now for dinner,” Matilda said, ushering them all to the table.

For once, they didn’t nag at Dawn throughout the meal. Dawn wasn’t sure if that was because it was her birthday or because she was doing everything right. When they’d almost finished dinner, the phone rang. “I’ll get it,” Dawn shouted as she jumped out of her chair, nearly tipping it over, and ran to the phone.

However, it wasn’t Lucy telling her she’d be playing Guinevere. It was Jeremy. “Have you talked to Lucy today?” he asked.

“No. She was supposed to call me with the audition results after school, but I haven’t heard from her. Why? Aren’t you supposed to be at her party now?”

“She’s missing.”

“Missing?” she yelped. “What do you mean?”

“I mean no one’s seen her since the end of school. She signed up to take the driving test but didn’t show up, and she hasn’t come home.”

Dawn tried to think of a bright side, some wonderful thing that might have caused Lucy to miss her own birthday party, but nothing came to her. “And here I was, getting mad at her because she didn’t call me with the audition results,” she said, her voice cracking as tears stung her eyes.

“You haven’t talked to her at all today, and she didn’t say anything to you about anywhere she might have gone after school?”

She shook her head before remembering that he couldn’t see that over the phone. “No.” It came out as a sob. “Nothing other than checking the cast list. Maybe I should have called you or her mother earlier, when I didn’t hear from her. You could have started looking sooner.”

The aunts came in from the dining room. Their concerned faces said they’d overheard the conversation. Matilda put an arm around Dawn’s shoulders while Mariel took the phone away from her. “This is Dawn’s Aunt Mariel,” she said into the phone, enunciating very distinctly, as though she was afraid she wouldn’t be understood on the other end. “What has happened?” She frowned as she listened, then said, “I see. That is terrible. Please keep us informed.” She hung up and faced Dawn. “This friend who’s missing, that’s the one who’s wearing your necklace?” she asked, an odd look of fear—and was it relief?—on her face. The other two aunts wore similar expressions. All three of them exchanged glances before their faces went totally blank.

“Yes, it’s Lucy,” Dawn said with a sniffle.

Matilda handed her a lace-edged handkerchief and said, “Let’s go have our dessert.” She guided Dawn back to the dining table and nudged her into her seat, then said to the other aunts, “I’ll need some help putting on the finishing touches.” The three aunts went into the kitchen. Dawn noticed that they hadn’t cleared the table, so she carefully stacked the plates, arranged the silverware on top, and headed for the kitchen.

As she approached the door, she heard Matilda ask, “Do you really think it’s all over?”

Dawn knew it was wrong to eavesdrop, but her curiosity got the better of her, and she lingered near the door to listen rather than going into the kitchen.

“We haven’t had the signal yet,” Miriam said.

“We wait for the signal,” Mariel confirmed, “but yes, I do believe it may be over, and we were fortunate. The necklace may have some protective properties, but it also served as a form of identification.” She laughed a nervous, shaky laugh. “And to think, those sixteen years of careful hiding and planning might have come to nothing if it hadn’t been for the careless whim of a teenage girl.”

“A generous whim,” Matilda put in.

“Generous, yes, but it may have saved us from disaster. We were very fortunate,” Mariel said. “We never imagined they would find us here, so we were entirely unprepared. If she hadn’t given the necklace, we might have lost her, and now she should be safe because they won’t be looking for her anymore.”

Dawn shook her head in confusion. From the way they talked, she assumed they were referring to the necklace she’d given to Lucy. But sixteen years of hiding? First Lucy disappeared, and now her aunts were talking nonsense. Dawn didn’t know what to think. She bit her lip to fight back a whimper and edged closer to the door so she could hear better.

“What will become of the other girl, though?” Matilda asked.

“That is not our concern,” Mariel said firmly. “Dawn is safe now. That is what is important.”

“It should concern us,” Matilda insisted. She seldom argued with Mariel, but when she did, she stood her ground. “She’s an innocent.”

“They’ll realize soon enough they have the wrong girl,” Miriam said. “I doubt they’ll keep her, then.” But she didn’t sound like she believed it. “At any rate, there’s little we can do about it. We don’t dare take her back without the signal. It would be too dangerous. We’ve been gone nearly sixteen years, and we have no idea what the situation might be. For all we know, Melantha managed to take over even without killing the princess.”

“Still, we should prepare the portal. The signal may come at any time,” Mariel said. “We must be ready to go.”

“And we’ve been in here long enough,” Miriam said. “Hurry and light these candles.”

Dawn rushed back to her seat and tried to look as innocent and as untroubled as she could be with her best friend missing. It was the biggest acting challenge she’d ever faced, keeping her expression from showing the way her brain was spinning.

The aunts returned to the dining room, Mariel carrying a pink-frosted birthday cake covered with candles. They weren’t actually birthday candles but instead were a mix of household candles in various shapes, colors, and sizes. Behind Mariel, Miriam carried a stack of bowls and Matilda held a half gallon of ice cream. In spite of her concerns, Dawn was touched that they’d made the effort. “Oh, this is lovely! Thank you!” she said, not having to fake her gratitude. Still, she couldn’t help but flinch a little when Matilda put a hand on her shoulder as she bent to blow out the candles, and she noticed every single look the aunts exchanged among themselves.


            Lucy gave up struggling against her captor soon after they passed through that magical doorway. If she was truly in another world, freeing herself in the middle of nowhere wouldn’t do her a lot of good, and getting free of the guy holding on to her while she was on top of a huge horse running at a decent rate of speed probably wasn’t the smartest idea. She kept herself still, sending off all the body language signals that she’d given up.

Soon, the man holding her did relax his grasp a little, and he took his hand away from her mouth. She had a feeling she could scream her head off and it wouldn’t do her much good, since they were in the middle of a heavy forest. Even if there were people around, for all she knew, they’d be cheering on the guys in black instead of helping her.

“Who are you and where are you taking me?” she asked the guy holding her, then cringed when she realized she sounded like something out of a bad movie. Then again, those were pretty obvious questions, under the circumstances. He didn’t answer or even show any sign that he’d heard her. He’d spoken English—or, at least, she’d heard it as English—when he’d seen her, just before he grabbed her, so she knew he should have understood her. She suspected he had orders not to talk to the prisoner. “Okay, be that way,” she muttered as she rolled her eyes.

After what seemed like an hour of riding, they emerged from the forest and approached a village. The houses were half-timbered and had thatched roofs, and they were clustered together along a narrow, winding road. The men of the village wore loose, belted tunics over leggings and the women wore dresses that were pretty much long versions of the men’s tunics. The rough fabrics, simple design, and worn condition of the clothing told Lucy these must be peasants—that was, if this world was anything like what she knew of earth. She might not pay attention in history class, but she did know her clothing history. In spite of her danger, she couldn’t help but wish she could get a closer look at the fabrics because that might help her design Camelot costumes. Assuming she ever made it home. The town musical was the least of her worries right now.

The people stopped working as the riders came into town, and they hurried to move off the road, which was smart, as the riders didn’t so much as slow down. They didn’t seem to have any qualms about trampling anything in their path. In fact, Lucy was pretty sure they ran over at least one chicken, but she closed her eyes at the last second and didn’t see whether the bird got out of the way in time.

They’d nearly made it through the village when a woman looked up at Lucy, blinked in shock, gasped, and cried out, “They found her!”

Her cry alerted the rest of the villagers, who rushed toward the horsemen, waving hoes and pitchforks. Lucy wasn’t sure what was going on, but if they were trying to rescue her, she was totally in favor of that. She struggled in earnest, hoping that if her captor had to work to hold on to her, he wouldn’t be able to fight. Unfortunately, the other two riders didn’t have anything stopping them, and they pulled their swords and circled back while Lucy’s rider kept going. She couldn’t see what happened, but she heard a roar from the crowd, followed by screams, gasps, and thuds. The screams went on far too long, like either the peasants kept fighting even though they didn’t stand a chance, or the soldiers didn’t want to leave anyone behind. Lucy sagged against her captor in defeat, fighting back tears. Soon, the other two riders rejoined them, and they kept going. Now she knew for a fact that these men were the bad guys and that she did not want to be with them.

The trees thinned as the horses pounded down the road into a river valley. On a hillside across the river loomed a massive castle with a city huddled below it on the slope down to the river. This wasn’t a fairy princess castle, with graceful, gleaming spires. It was a castle that meant business, with thick stone walls and sturdy towers at each corner. It looked to Lucy like the kind of castle that would have a dungeon, and probably even a torture chamber. Suddenly the idea of a castle was much less romantic to her.

They clattered across the bridge and made their way to the castle through crowded, narrow streets. The people on the streets shrank away from the riders. Parents put themselves between the riders and their children. One woman held out a beseeching hand toward Lucy as tears ran down her face. An older man fell to his knees when he saw Lucy. Everywhere she looked, Lucy saw faces without hope, some of them with utter despair.

But what did that have to do with her? Was her being here such a bad thing for these people? She knew she didn’t mean them any harm. Or was it more to do with what awaited her, and they felt sorry for her? No, she decided as she looked into yet another set of despairing eyes, they were worried about what would happen to them. No one got that upset over the fate of a stranger, no matter how nasty that fate might be.

The city seemed to be in the middle of some kind of festival. There were brightly colored banners hanging everywhere, along with floral garlands strung across the street, from rooftop to rooftop. It was even more extreme than Lucy’s hometown’s Christmas decorations, only with less tinsel and no electric lights. If she’d noticed the decorations first, she’d have expected the people to look happy instead of like the world was coming to an end.

Their group rode into the castle courtyard, where a guard yanked Lucy off the horse. He dragged her into the castle, then down one flight of stairs after another. She struggled to keep up with him, often stumbling. She tried to remember each twist and turn so she could find her way out if she got the chance, but she was afraid she was hopelessly lost.

At the end of the final flight of stairs, they arrived in the dungeon—a narrow, torchlit corridor with barred doors set into the walls. The guard took a ring of keys off his belt, unlocked a door, and threw her into a cell, locking the door behind her. She landed on moldy straw that stank, so she jumped back to her feet. The only light in the room came from a tiny barred window set high in one of the walls and from a torch in the hallway outside the barred door. The cell’s stone walls were covered in slimy moss. There were brackets on the wall with chains hanging from them, and she was glad they hadn’t used them on her.

So, she was in a dungeon in another world on her birthday. She was missing her driving test, her own party, and whatever surprise Jeremy had for her. Tears filled her eyes, and she tried to fight them back. She could practically hear her mother’s voice telling her to pull herself together and think about what she could do. The thought of her mother made the tears worse. By now, her mother would surely be wondering where she was—or else she’d think Lucy was pouting about her mom not agreeing to take her to get her driver’s license. She’d just assume Lucy was being childish and dramatic and trying to get attention.

Alone and scared, Lucy couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. Armed men didn’t grab girls and haul them away to a dungeon because someone wanted to invite them for tea. She wanted out of there, and she wanted to go home.

“Ah, there you are,” a voice from behind her said, and she spun to see who it was.

There wasn’t anyone there, not that she could see. She got a mini flashlight out of her school backpack and pointed it at all the corners of the cell. The only living thing anywhere near the cell, besides herself, was the little black bird that had slipped between the bars in that window high in the cell wall. “Hello? Who’s there?” she called out. She hoped whoever it was hadn’t seen her crying.

“It’s just me,” the voice said from the window. It looked like the bird was talking. “I heard they finally caught you, so I came to the dungeon to check it out for myself.”

This was impossible. Birds didn’t talk. “You’re talking?” Lucy asked, just to be sure.

“Of course I’m talking. Do you see anyone else? Now, did they hurt you, highness? ’Cause if they did, I’ll have to do something about that.”

She shook her head. “No, they didn’t hurt me.”

“Good. Now, you sit tight. I’m going for help. We’ve got someone on the inside. And don’t touch any spindles.”

He flew away, leaving her with unanswered questions. Like how birds could talk, who “we” was, what a spindle had to do with anything, and what, in general, the hell was going on here.

And, wait a second, did he call her highness? She ran to the window to call after the bird, but then there was yet another voice behind her, coming from the door. “Don’t try it, there’s no escape,” the gruff voice said. She turned around cautiously, wondering what she might see. A talking guard dog, maybe?

But it was just a guard, a human guard. He unlocked the cell door and said, “Come with us. She wants to see you now.”


            That night, Dawn was too agitated to sleep. She paced her bedroom, trying to process everything that had happened that day. She knew she was missing information and couldn’t judge from what she’d heard of the aunts’ conversation, but it didn’t sound good. They’d been kind enough to her, but if they were willing to let something bad happen to Lucy, that couldn’t be good, could it? And it sounded like they knew what was going on, but they hadn’t shared any of that with her. Why not? She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself.

There was a noise from the back yard, and she went to the window to peer out from behind the curtain. The aunts had the doors to the garden shed open and were doing something inside. She heard them through the open window, but what they said didn’t make much sense. Their voices stopped as they backed away from the shed, then there was a flash of light through the shed’s windows and open doorway.

Dawn gasped in surprise and quickly clapped her hand over her mouth to stifle the sound. “There, that should do it,” Mariel said, brushing her hands on her black skirt. “We just step through the portal as soon as the signal comes, and we’ll be home.”

“Shouldn’t we tell Dawn?” Matilda asked. “This will be a very big change for her. She needs time to get adjusted.” Dawn clutched the windowsill to keep herself from falling as her legs went wobbly. She felt like someone had pulled the ground out from under her, leaving her nothing solid to stand on.

“She can get adjusted once she’s there,” Miriam said. “We don’t want to take any chances. She might not want to go, and we can’t take that risk.”

Now Dawn understood why they’d kept her home from school. It wasn’t just that day, it was for good. They were planning to leave. They were going to take her away.

“And what about the other girl?” Matilda asked.

“There’s little question of where she is,” Mariel said. “But perhaps I should go through to let the sisters know so they can intervene, if necessary.”

“Excellent idea,” Matilda said. “I’d feel so much better if we did something to help that poor girl.” Dawn felt a warm glow in her heart for her aunt’s kindness. Matilda always had been the one most like a mother to her.

“Very well, then, I shall go,” Mariel said. She walked into the shed, and the other two closed the door after her. Even after several minutes passed, Mariel didn’t come out of the shed.

Dawn sank down against the wall until she sat on the floor. She was dizzy, but she wasn’t sure if that was because of what she’d just heard and seen or because she’d been holding her breath for so long. The back door opened and closed, and Dawn flung herself across the room into the bed in case they looked in on her. Sure enough, soon her bedroom door opened, and she had to will her body to relax and her breathing to slow and become more even so she’d appear to be asleep instead of agitated. She gave herself half an hour after her bedroom door shut and another door elsewhere in the house opened and shut, then she slid out of bed.

She had to know what was in the shed. It was a compulsion that grew stronger every second—so strong that she nearly forgot to put on shoes before sneaking out of her room to go outside. The shed wasn’t locked, just closed with a latch. She unfastened the latch and eased the door open slowly, hoping it didn’t creak.

Inside the shed was a moonlit garden. She blinked and shook her head. That couldn’t be right. When she looked again, she saw that there was a faintly glowing arch in the shed, through which she saw the garden. Before she realized what she was doing, she took a step toward the arch, then caught herself. More than anything she’d ever wanted in her life—more even than a leading role in Camelot—she wanted to go through that portal. Though she kept her feet planted, her upper body swayed toward it.

On the other side of that glowing arch were the answers to all the questions she’d never thought to ask, like who she was, who her parents were, and where she came from. Based on what her aunts had said, she came from the world of that garden. That’s if they really were her aunts. Now she couldn’t even be sure of that much. Lucy had been taken because she was wearing Dawn’s necklace, because somebody thought she was Dawn, and that meant Dawn could learn who she was by finding Lucy.

Dawn took another step toward the glowing arch, then shook her head to clear it, backed away, and shut the shed door. She wouldn’t get far with nothing but a nightgown, and she wouldn’t get far on her own. She needed to find someone she could trust to help her, and with Lucy gone, that left one person.

Continued in chapter four.

2 Responses to “Serial Part 3”

  1. Serial Chapter Two - Shanna Swendson

    […] Continued in chapter three. […]

  2. Heather

    This is really good. Ready for more thank you.

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