The Attic

by Ken Perlin


The house had been in their family for about two hundred years, and had somehow managed to pass from mother to daughter. So great was the pull of the old place that successive generations of husbands always ended up moving in.

Jenny had always heard stories about her grandmother's secret jewelry box, the one that was supposed to be lost somewhere in the attic, and how grandma, when she was a girl, had found it there one day, left by her grandmother. Mom used to tell the story with a wistful look, as though talking about some long lost childhood friend. But it was one of those stories you don't really think is true. Grandma had died when Jenny's mom was just a girl, so there was no way to check, and Jenny was rather practical minded about these things.

So she was a little taken aback when she actually came upon the little jewelry box while rummaging around in the attic one day. The inlaid figurine of a ballerina on the top surface was exactly as her mom had always described it, and she knew at once that it was the real thing, with a certainty that she couldn't really explain.

There didn't seem to be a key to open it, or a keyhole either for that matter. After a few minutes of fiddling around trying to find a secret door or something, she was about to give up in frustration, when on a sudden whim she pressed down on the little figure of the ballerina. With a click the box sprang open.

The inside of the box was lined with a thick cushion of red velvet. It smelled slightly musty, as though the box had been closed for a very long time, which she supposed it must have been. Other than that the box appeared to be empty, except for a single old-fashioned skeleton key, golden in color, nestled within a matching depression in the velvet cushion.


The golden key glistened as Jenny held it up to the light from the attic window, turning it first one way and then another. She frowned thoughtfully. It's one thing to find a key, but quite another to know what it opens -- if anything. She wondered whether it was made of real gold. Not that it really mattered. After all, the real value of a key lies in what it can unlock.

She looked about the attic, trying to spot something that might require a skeleton key. Everything was in such a jumble -- it had probably been decades since anyone had made a real attempt to tidy up in here. She had gotten the feeling growing in this house up that ever since Grandma had passed, the attic was not a popular place to visit. It wasn't anything people said, more the way the subject just never seemed to come up. Whatever the reason, clearly Mom wasn't a big fan of the attic and its secrets.

Still, she could try to ask Mom what the deal was, show her the jewelry box with its mysterious key. No, she thought, that probably wasn't a good idea. She really wasn't supposed to be up here at all, and in any case, something told her that it would be better, at least for now, to keep this little secret to herself. Besides, she was already late for school. Jenny tucked the key into the pocket of her jeans and headed on downstairs.


Sitting in the courtyard at lunch break, turning the key over in her hands, Jenny pondered it with care. She was so lost in contemplation that she didn't hear Josh come up behind her until he exclaimed, rather loudly, "Nice key!"

Jenny nearly jumped in the air. "Jeeze", she glared. "You nearly scared me to death."

"Sorry," he smiled, clearly not sorry. "What's that? Finally found the key to my heart?"

She just shook her head in disgust. Josh was cute, but there was no getting around it -- boys simply did not mature as quickly as girls. For the crime of liking the male half, it seemed she was forever doomed to the company of geeks and morons. Oh why couldn't she like girls instead, like Chloe? Life must be so much more pleasant for Chloe. Besides, that might be a way to get through to Mom -- finally something Mom would really have to notice. The thought made her smile.

"Ah, starting to appreciate my fine sense of humor, I see," Josh grinned.

"No, you dork, I was just thinking how great it would have been if I'd been ... oh never mind. You wouldn't understand."

Josh shrugged. He'd learned long ago not to try to follow the convoluted path of Jenny's thoughts. "So, what's with the key?"

"I'm trying to figure out what it opens." She continued to regard the key thoughtfully.

"Looks like a pirate key to me," Josh suggested.

"It's called a skeleton key," Jenny explained impatiently.

He grinned at that. "Why would anybody want to lock a skeleton?"

"Can you please be serious for five minutes?" she asked. "This is important."

"Sorry," Josh replied. "Serious is against my nature, but for you I am willing to make an effort. Why do they call it a skeleton key anyway?"

"I think it comes from the shape of the keyhole," she explained. "Round at the top and kind of flared out below -- kind of like the shape of a skull."

"Oh, right," he said. "You mean like the keyhole in that old wooden box in the school library -- the one they supposedly found in that time capsule forty years ago. I remember Mr. Flanders told us in class it was the only object in the capsule they could never get open."

The two of them looked at each other, then they both looked at the key. When Josh looked back at Jenny he saw that she was regarding him with the sweetest smile.

"You are a genius!" she exclaimed. "I could kiss you."

Josh felt a very complex mix of emotions. He was sure that later he would think this was a very good moment, but right now he felt way out of his comfort zone. He knew he was supposed to say something here, but for once he was at a loss for words.

Jenny was too excited to notice. "Hey," she smiled, even more sweetly, "would you like to go on an adventure with me to open that box?"

Faced with a concrete task, Josh once again found himself able to focus. "Well," he said, "you do realize it would involve breaking into a locked glass case, tampering with school property, and probably violating about a dozen school regulations and at least one state law."

"Will that be a problem?" she asked.

"I don't see why," he smiled. He wasn't sure, but he had a feeling this whole crime thing was going to be a positive step in their relationship.


After the closing bell, they waited until the last stragglers had left school. When they were sure there wasn't a soul around Jenny and Josh made their way to the school library.

"Well, this is it." Josh said.

"Yes," said Jenny, "but how are we going to get into the library?" The two of them looked at the forbidding oak door. Even if they'd wanted to, they couldn't have forced their way through a door that big.

"Wait, I have an idea," Josh said.

"OK," said Jenny, "What's your brilliant plan?"

"Watch," Josh said. And with a look of studied concentration, he turned the door handle. The library door swung inward.

"How did you..." Jenny started.

"It was easy," Josh shrugged. "The librarian never locks these doors after hours."

"And you would know this how?"

Josh looked sheepish. "I like to come here to read after everyone's gone, but I have a reputation to uphold. If kids found out how much of a bookworm I really am, they'd lose all respect."

"You're a dork," Jenny said. "Fortunately, you're a lovable dork."

The two of them pressed on. Soon they were standing in front of the glass case, staring at the old wooden chest.

Josh tried the glass door. "No luck this time -- this one's really locked. Are we going to be doing any glass smashing today?"

"Not necessarily," Jenny said, walking over to the librarian's desk. "I've spent some time around here too, you know. This is not a very high security establishment. And you pick up some things if you know how to watch." She opened the top drawer of the desk and rummaged around. "Aha!" she said, holding up a small metal key. "No glass smashing today."

The little metal key indeed unlocked the door to the glass case. Soon they had removed the wooden chest from the case.

"You want to do the honors?" Josh asked. "After all, it's your key."

"Technically I'm not sure about that," Jenny said, "But it's probably true to a first approximation." Gingerly she inserted the skeleton key into the little skull-shaped keyhole in the wooden chest. Nothing happened.

"Um," Josh said, "I think you have to turn it."

"Oh, right, I knew that. At least I think I knew that." Jenny turned the key to the left, and they both heard a definite click. Slowly Jenny reached out with both hands, and lifted the lid of the chest.

There, lying in the middle of the chest, was a scroll, tied neatly with a faded yellow ribbon.


Jenny picked up the scroll and gave it a long hard look. "You wanna do the honors? After all, it's your wooden chest."

"Well, technically it's not my..." Josh began. "Oh, nevermind. Just give me the scroll."

He took the scroll from her, and pulled on one end of the ribbon. The knot came free and the yellow ribbon fluttered to the floor. He placed the scroll down on one of the library tables and unfurled it, spreading the document flat against the tabletop.

"Oh my god," Josh said, looking seriously at the incomprehensible symbols on the paper. "Do you realize what this means?"

"No," Jenny said, looking at him expectantly.

"Neither do I," Josh replied, grinning.

"Dork," Jenny said.

"Sorry, that was just too easy. I may be a dork, but you have to admit I'm a funny dork."

"I don't have to admit anything," Jenny said, but she wore a trace of a smile while she said it. "Any ideas on how we can get this thing translated?"

"Ah," Josh replied. This is a job for Mr. Symarian."

"You mean the English teacher?" Jenny asked incredulously. "What would he know about something like this."

"Quite a bit," Josh said. "He knows everything about all sorts of old languages and stuff. Trust me, Mr. Symarian is our man."

"Sounds good to me," Jenny said. "I didn't get this far just to be stopped by a little language problem. Lead the way!"


Mr. Symarian was in his office when they went to see him the next morning at study period. He seemed so small sitting behind that big desk. Nobody really knew how old he was -- he just seemed to have always been part of the school.

Jenny and Josh stood in the door for a while, just watching the light reflecting off Mr. Symarian's bald head as he pored over what looked like the biggest book they'd ever seen. He seemed so absorbed in what he was reading, and neither of them wanted to disturb him when he was working.

Suddenly he looked up at them, and then smiled a broad smile. "Children, do come in! Have some chocolates." He pointed expansively to a dish containing assorted bonbons. Mr. Symarian's desk was always a reliable source of chocolate.

"Um, I don't think we're children," Jenny said.

"Speak for yourself," Josh cut in, grabbing a fistful of the chocolates.

Mr. Symarian leaned back in his chair and regarded them with amusement. "You two look so serious, like you're on a mission."

"You could say that," Jenny began, holding out the scroll.

Suddenly Mr. Symarian became very serious. "No, it can't be!" he said. "It's been years .... Where did you get this, child?"

This time Jenny knew better than to correct him. "It's a long story, but the important thing is that it's got stuff written on it that we can't understand."

"No, you wouldn't," he replied. "It's in the Old Tongue. Very few are left who know the old ways. Can you tell me where you found it?"

"Are you saying we stole it?" Josh said, forgetting all about the piece of half-eaten chocolate in his hand.

"Oh no, not at all. You might even think you did, but you couldn't have. The fact that you are holding this scroll means that you were supposed to have it. It is what was meant to happen."

"Mr. Symarian, I'm sure that made perfect sense," Jenny said, "but I have no idea what you just said."

He looked at her blankly for a moment, and then he laughed. "No, you wouldn't, would you? It doesn't matter. I imagine you came to me to translate the thing. Is that about right?"

"Oh yes, that would be great!" Jenny said. "Could you really?"

Josh nodded in enthusiastic agreement. He would have said something, but he was just finishing off the last of the chocolate, and his mouth was full.

"I can do even better than that," Mr. Symarian said. "Shall we begin?"

Jenny handed him the scroll. Their teacher unfurled it and placed it carefully on the desk, as though handling a thing of great rarity. Then, to their surprise, he started to read the strange foreign sounding words out loud.


As their teacher's voice filled the room, intoning the strange words, Jenny and Josh looked at each other.

"Whoa," Josh said, "Isn't he supposed to be translating that stuff into English?"

"Keep your voice down!" Jenny whispered. "I'm sure Mr. Symarian knows what he's doing. Besides, whatever it is, I think something's happening."

"What do you mean?"

"Haven't you noticed?" she said. "It's getting colder in here."

"Maybe somebody left the window open..." Josh's whispered voice trailed off. The window was shut tight. As they watched, lines of frost were forming over the panes of glass. "It could just be a cold snap," he suggested.

Jenny shook her head, and pointed. Across the room, the window on the office door was also frosting up. Josh stared at the door, agape, and then they both looked back at their teacher. A patch of air above the center of his desk was starting to shimmer, the way hot air shimmers on a summer's day. The surface of the desk directly beneath was slowly and ominously beginning to darken.

Suddenly there was a popping sound. Mr. Symarian had stopped his chant, and was now peering with interest down at the desktop. Standing there on the desk, looking around with a somewhat disgruntled expression, was a bright reddish-orange six inch tall demon.

As Jenny and Josh looked on in amazement, the demon spread first one leathery wing, then the other, eyeing them critically.

"Hello Sid," said Mr. Symarian.

The demon glared up at their teacher reproachfully. "You couldn't have picked a better color, maybe?" he said in what sounded like a strong Brooklyn accent.

"Sorry," Mr. Symarian shrugged. "I'm a little rusty."

"Yeah, right. And now 'cause you're rusty, I'm rusty." The demon shook his horned head in resignation. "Amateurs! I need a smoke." He waved one of his tiny taloned hands, and a perfectly proportioned little cigar appeared in his fingers, already lit.

"Sorry Sid, you can't smoke in here," Mr. Symarian admonished.

"You gotta be kidding me," the demon replied. "Who's idea was it to bring me here in the first place? Cut me a break, will ya?"

"You know the rules, Sid. Local customs. It's not up to me. They're His rules."

"Crap," the demon said. There was a bright reddish-orange flare, and the little cigar vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.

Jenny and Josh had been silent throughout this exchange, too stunned to speak. But now Josh found his voice. "You said crap."

The demon looked at him, as if seeing him for the first time. "What's it to you?"

"Demons aren't supposed to say things like that."

Jenny chimed in supportively. "And whoever heard of a demon that smokes cigars?"

"And what's the deal with the Brooklyn accent?" Josh added. "That is a Brooklyn accent, isn't it?" His tone was almost accusing.

Sid rolled his eyes. "Look kids, I've had a rough day, and I'm not in the mood to debate theology with a pair of human whelps. But since you asked, don't you think it's kind of nuts, these questions?"

"I think they're perfectly reasonable questions," Jenny said, and Josh nodded in agreement.

"Oh give me a break. I'm a friggin' mythical creature. You know, as in `Imaginary, fictitious, not based on facts or scientific study.' I'm not even supposed to exist. You gonna stand there and tell me what accent I'm supposed to have?"

"He does have a point," said Mr. Symarian.


"OK," Sid said, looking at Jenny and Josh. "Let's cut to the chase. I'm a finder demon. They don't send my class of spook into this plane just for kicks. There's something's gone missing, right?"

Josh and Jenny looked at each other. "Actually," Jenny began, "it's not exactly something missing, it's something found."

"Yeah kid, I know, there was a key. There's always a key. Key leads to a scroll, scroll summons a demon, yadda yadda. It's always the same drill. Spare me. I mean what went missing? Think back."

Jenny was silent, lost in thought. "Does it have to be a what?"

Sid perked up. "Interesting question. What's the angle?"

"I mean, can it be a who?"

"Yeah, sure. A who can be a what. I mean a what isn't always a who, but a who is definitely always a what. I don't make the rules, but I sure know what's what. Or in this case, who's what, if you see my drift."

Josh felt in over his head. "Jenny, do you have any idea what he's talking about?"

"Yes," Jenny said, "it's perfectly clear. He's talking about Grandma. That's what this is all about, isn't it?" She looked at the demon expectantly.

Sid took his time answering. "Yeah, I'm starting to get the picture here. Old lady goes missing, manages to leave a key. Her daughter can't do a thing, cause she hasn't got the Power."

"The power?" Josh asked. "what power?"

"Not power, Power. Your girlfriend's got it." Josh was about to correct him, but thought better of it. Sid waited him out, then continued. "Usually skips a generation. Grandma to granddaughter. Touching really. Anyway, grandma's missing, and we've gotta find her fast."

"Wait," Jenny asked. "That box was in the attic for years. Why now?"

"Cause you found the key. That right, big boy?"

Mr. Symarian had been watching quietly. But now Sid had asked him a direct question, and they were all looking at him. "Why yes, that's true," he nodded. "If you found the key, it means that trouble is brewing. Keys don't just show up -- until you need them. Jenny, do you have a picture of your grandmother?"

Jenny shook her head slowly. "Mother destroyed them all. I never asked why -- it was something we never talked about. Do we need one?"

"Only if you want to find Grandma," Sid said. "Wait. I've got an idea. Let's make a picture of the old broad."

"Can we do that?" Josh asked.

"Trust me kid," Sid grinned, "I'm a demon."


Apparently, as Jenny and Josh understood it, the goal was to create something called an "astral portrait". Sid seemed very confident in his power to do this -- apparently it was one of the more elementary spells -- but a quiet and secluded place was needed to conduct the ceremony.

Meanwhile Mr. Symarian employed a different kind of power -- he reserved a meeting room in the school basement over the weekend. When the secretary in the main office asked for the purpose of the meeting, he told her "Astral Photography Club."

So it was that the four of them found themselves in room G102, bright and early on a Sunday morning -- the one time of week they could be sure nobody would be around to disturb them. Jenny and Josh hadn't been sure what to expect. They wouldn't have been surprised if Mr. Symarian had shown up in a long robe and a pointed hat. To their considerable disappointment, he arrived in the same rumpled jacket he always wore.

Mr. Symarian set up four tall black candles, one at each corner of the table. He fumbled for matches, then looked apologetically at Sid. "Sorry, this was so much easier before I quit smoking."

"Don't sweat it pal," the demon replied, "I do this kinda thing for breakfast". Sid waved one tiny taloned hand and all four candles flared into flame. Jenny and Josh looked at each other gleefully. This was starting to get interesting.

Mr. Symarian took a small black notebook out of his jacket pocket. It looked very old and worn, and there was an odd symbol etched into the front cover. He placed the notebook neatly onto the table, opened it to a page he had previously marked, and in a quiet measured voice began to read out loud.


Josh was getting uncomfortable. Mr. Symarian had been reading from his little black incantation book for a good fifteen minutes and it didn't seem like anything was happening. Except maybe that the candles had burned lower, but Josh was sure that didn't really count.

None of this would have been a problem -- Josh was as up for a good supernatural adventure as the next kid -- except that he really, really had to go to the bathroom. He wondered idly whether it was ok to interrupt a ritual invocation of dark spirits to announce something like that. He was sure the spirits wouldn't care -- they probably didn't even have bathrooms in the afterlife, or wherever dark spirits hung out. But it just didn't seem quite, well, appropriate.

To get his mind off things, he tried to think about other occult situations, in books he'd read, to see if anybody had ever had to go to the bathroom. There was that one series of books, the one with the annoying wizard kid, where there was some ghost of a girl who actually haunted a bathroom. But Josh was pretty sure nobody in the book every actually used that bathroom. Which made sense, given that a haunted bathroom pretty much guaranteed you wouldn't get any privacy.

He had just about managed to screw up his courage to speak out and openly express his need, when Jenny spoke up first. "I don't think this is working," she said.

Mr Symarian looked at her with an injured expression. "It's always worked before. I've been doing this spell for centuries..."

"Euphemism," Sid interrupted. "'Centuries' was a euphemism, kids. Right teach?"

"Yes, well," Mr. Symarian said, blushing. "Merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative."

Jenny was sure she'd heard that somewhere before, but she couldn't quite place it. She looked to Josh for support, and noticed for the first time that he seemed rather uncomfortable. In that moment she had a flash of understanding. "Mr. Symarian, would it be ok with you if we took a bathroom break?"

"Why yes," their teacher said, "I think that would be fine."

Josh wanted to kiss Jenny, but that would have to wait. Right now he needed to head for the door. By the time Mr. Symarian had finished his sentence, Josh was already gone.

"Sheesh!" said Sid. "And they say we demons dematerialize fast."


Josh came back with a big smile on his face. "Folks, I've got an idea. It came to me while I was ... um, thinking about ideas."

Jenny giggled. "We should take more bathroom breaks, What's your idea?"

Josh turned to Mr. Symarian. "You said this usually works for you, which means there's something different here. I think it's because Jenny is supposed to read the spell."

"Well," Mr. Symarian said, "that would be most unusual. There are great powers involved, ways of doing things..."

"Kid's makin' sense," Sid interrupted. "The way I see it, this is her caper. First she found the key, then she brought you the scroll. That's the whole Megilla right there, if you ask me. Maybe it's time we aughta take a back seat and let the little lady drive."

"Very well," their teacher said, a bit stiffly. "This is highly irregular, but it seems our little orange friend has a point." At the mention of the word "orange" the demon shot the teacher a withering look, but chose to say nothing.

"OK, then" Jenny said brightly, hoping to diffuse the tension. "Let's try it. Mr. Symarian, where do I sit?"

In a few minutes there were once again seated around the table, their faces lit only by the flickering black candles. Jenny began to read the strange words from the little notebook. As soon as she started to speak, she could feel the book begin to grow colder in her hands. By the time she had finished the second paragraph a sound had risen all around them in the darkness, an elusive and papery sound, like many voices whispering from far away.

Gradually the voices grew closer, louder. The air in the middle of the table began to shimmer. Jenny looked up in alarm. To her surprise, she found herself continuing to speak the incantation, the words just coming to her now, as though she had always known them. She could dimly see Josh staring at her from across the table, a strange look upon his face. In the darkness between them something seemed to be moving in lazy slithering circles. A shape was slowly forming...


The four of them peered down at the slowly swirling form upon the table top. At first it was indistinct, mere shadow and outline, but gradually an image began to take shape. Jenny realized that she was still chanting. She had long since put down the notebook; the strange words were now coming from her mouth of their own volition.

Suddenly the words stopped, and she found herself staring in silence. The image, fully formed now, was of a woman in profile. The woman was almost young, and it was clear that she had once been beautiful -- that she might still be beautiful, but for the expression on her face. It was an expression of pure cold hate, and utter distain.

As she gradually came to understand what she was seeing, Jenny could feel the hairs begin to rise on the back of her neck. "No," she said, in a small quiet voice, slowly shaking her head. "No, it's not right."

She looked up at Josh, and he looked back at her in confusion. "This is not right!" Jenny repeated, her voice rising. "Grandma was not like this, not at all. It's all horribly wrong."

Without saying a word Josh came around the table, passing Mr. Symarian and Sid without looking at either of them. He put his arms around her. Jenny seemed to go limp in his embrace, letting herself be held. She buried her face in his shoulder, and began to cry.


The next day -- Jenny could not believe it was merely the next day -- she found herself the focus of attention as the four of them sat around, taking stock of the previous day's events. Well no, she corrected herself, only three of them were sitting around. Sid was actually standing on Mr Symarian's desk, in his usual spot.

"Jenny, is there is something you are not telling us?" Mr. Symarian was asking.

"I'm sorry Mr. Symarian, I didn't expect anything like this," she said. "I've missed Grandma terribly since she's been gone, and I thought this whole finding a key thing was a sign that I could reach out to her in some way. When Sid appeared, I thought it meant there was a real chance."

"Except," Josh said, "you were expecting somebody nice."

Jenny nodded. "Exactly! Grandma was just about the kindest, sweetest person you could ever imagine. That's why we all loved her so much. She didn't have a mean bone in her body. But yesterday, when we conjured up that, that ... thing ... it felt all wrong. Like it wasn't really Grandma at all. I mean it was her, but it wasn't her. If you see what I mean." Jenny looked around expectantly.

"Yeah kid, I get ya," Sid nodded. "You're close to Grandma, you got some kinda bond thing, like you're connected. You figure that's gonna continue, even after the old lady kicks it. I'd figure it the same way if I was in your shoes. Not that I would wear shoes." he added hastily.

"But why does it matter," Josh asked. "Your grandmother's gone. Why would you care about a picture on a table?"

"Because it means she's not gone," Jenny said. "It's not like she's in heaven or whatever. Something's happened to her -- something bad. Sid, are there bad demons that could do something like this?"

Sid rubbed his wings together thoughtfully before replying. "I gotta level with you here. We ain't all as good hearted as me. And we certainly ain't all as good looking. Like the man once said, sometimes you gotta take the meat with the gravy."

"Are you sure you got that last part right?" Josh asked.

"Quiet Josh!" Jenny said. "This is serious. I think we have to rescue Grandma."

"Well," said Mr Symarian. "That means we will need all the tools we can get to reach out to her and pull her from the Astral dimension. Let's start with the basics. Jenny, what was your Grandmother's first name?"

"Her name," Jenny said, "was -- is -- Amelia."


It was dark. And cold. There were scrabbling noises somewhere off in the distance, and a slow miasma that was not as much sensed as felt. A deep pulsing emanated from the pit beneath, and clawing figures scrambled for purchase on unseen slime covered rock.

Amelia no longer had use for thoughts of time. A moment stretched to eternity, and eternity promised naught but an unbroken landscape of inescapable despair. It had not always been thus. There had been sunlight once, laughter and kindness and the voices of other souls. She bristled at the memory, for that world was a dream, and nothing left but bitter ash.

But a voice was calling now, as if from a great distance. Amelia recoiled back in upon herself. This was new, and newness meant fear. She still felt the bitter sting of betrayal, deep and abiding, and in the darkness of her soul she knew one thing, and one thing alone. There could be no truth, no salvation, no purchase on the slime covered rock.


Sid was pacing back and forth on the desk. "I'm guessing your grandma fell in with a bad crowd, and now some shady operators are using the old gal for their own nefarious purposes."

"I'm afraid he's right," Mr. Symarian said, looking at Jenny sympathetically. "Your grandmother had the power, much as you yourself have. There are forces in other dimensions who will stop at nothing to capture the unwary possessor of such power, and turn its potential toward their own ends. I'm afraid some unscrupulous demons are using your grandmother as an Astral Lens."

"Did you just say `Astral Lens'," Josh said. "What is this, a physics class? Are you saying somebody is using Jenny's grandmother for some kind of demon optics experiment?"

"I only wish it were that benign," their teacher said. "The power itself is neither good nor evil -- it can be turned to any direction. And in the case of your poor grandmother, I am afraid..."

"I won't let them get away with this," Jenny interrupted, stamping her foot in anger. "I'm through with being nice. I think maybe it's time we faced our demons."

Strangely, in the place where her foot came down, instead of the expected hard wooden floor she felt something soft. Looking down in surprise, Jenny was amazed to see grass beginning to grow around her foot. The grass quickly spread, until it had grown beyond the walls, which had now been replaced by a thick canopy of trees.

They found themselves standing in a small copse in a densely overgrown wood. All except Sid, who was standing on a large rock at about table height. For a long moment the four of them all just looked at each other, too stunned to say anything.

Josh was the first to break the silence. "Toto," he said, "I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

Sid gave Josh a puzzled look. "Ok, I can deal with the whole being transported to another world thing, seeing as the little gal said she wanted to face those demons. But who the hell is this Toto guy? Him I never heard of."


"This is very weird," Josh said.

"Weirder than a six inch tall cigar smoking demon from Brooklyn?" Jenny asked.

Josh considered this. "Yes, I see your point. But still, what on earth do we do now?"

"No," Mr. Symarian corrected him. "Not on Earth, I'm afraid. I don't believe we are meant to return to Earth -- or what you would call Earth -- until we have completed our mission."

"Well that's just great. Anybody know how we're supposed to do that?" Josh looked around at his three companions, but nobody said a word.

Finally Jenny said, "Anything is better than standing here. Let's go." And with that she started off into the woods. She didn't get very far. "Oh my gosh," she said, "This is the thickest forest I've ever seen. I can't get more than a few feet into it."

"Let me try," Josh said, and he started off in a different direction. Jenny watched in astonishment as he walked right into the woods, as though taking a stroll in the park. "Hey, this isn't so hard," he said.

"Sid looked at Mr. Symarian. "Kid's a pathfinder."

"A what-finder?" Josh looked confused.

"Our little friend is trying to say," their teacher explained, "that you always go in the right direction.'

"Wait a second," Josh looked suspicious. "What happens if I go in a different direction?"

"Look kid, listen to your teacher," Sid said. "Doesn't matter which way you go. It's always the way the path goes. Yeah sure, you can try to change it up, but that's where the path'll be. Like I said, you're a pathfinder. Do I gotta spell it out for you? You -- find -- paths."

"Josh," Jenny said, "Don't argue with them. Just walk."

Shrugging his shoulders Josh plunged once more into the brush. Jenny followed, and Mr. Symarian followed her. "Hey!" Sid shouted. "What about yours truly here? What am I, chopped liver?"

"Um," Jenny said, "Can't you just fly?"

Sid fanned one of his wings, eyeing it critically. "Nothin' doing. The wings're strictly vestigial. They make me look pretty though, don't they?"

Before they could say anything in reply, Mr. Symarian had scooped the little demon up and deposited him on one shoulder. "I suggest we refrain from dawdling," he said. "These spells usually contain an element of time. If we do not move with alacrity, I'm afraid we could become permanently mired in this dimension. And then things might become most unpleasant."

And with that, they plunged onward.


To Jenny it seemed like hours since they had left the little clearing, although there was no way to know for sure. As they went further into the forest, the light seemed to dim. They had tried making small talk near the start of their journey, but it seemed that all conversations petered out within moments. It was as though the forest itself was willing them to silence.

She could barely make out Josh just ahead of her -- she realized she was now following him as much by sound as by sight, as he pushed aside branches and leaves to make his way. Every once in a while she would try moving off to the side, to push into a different direction, just to see what would happen. And inevitably she would find that the forest was completely impenetrable in any other direction. At any given moment only one heading was passable -- whichever one Josh happened to be using. She wouldn't have been surprised to discover that the path went only one way. If they tried to double back, she thought, they might very well find that the place where they had just walked was now nothing but a solid thicket of trees.

At some point she realized it was getting lighter. At first she had thought it was her imagination, but now the changing light was unmistakable. She felt a mixture of relief and trepidation when Josh at last led them to the edge of the forest. She followed him through a gap between two trees, and then suddenly they were in the open air. She could hear Mr. Symarian, the demon still perched on his shoulder, come up out of the forest behind them. But it was hard to focus on that -- she and Josh were both preoccupied with looking up.

The sky, stretching out above them, was a magnificent shade of green.


"That's just wrong," Josh said.

"I'm not certain that 'wrong' is an entirely appropriate term in this context," Mr. Symarian observed dryly.

"It's physics," Josh stubbornly continued, "You can't fight physics. There's a reason the sky is blue, and not green. Molecules in the air scatter blue light more than they scatter red light..."

"And boys who pop into strange worlds don't magically burrow their way through densely overgrown forests," Jenny interrupted. "What, exactly, is your point?"

Josh looked at her, opened his mouth to say something, then apparently thought better of it. At last he said, "I'm guess I didn't really have a point."

"Except maybe on the top of your head," Jenny said, and suddenly two of them found themselves giggling.

"Uh, yo kids," they heard Sid say, "If you're about done with the laugh-fest, we got ourselves a problem. And it'd be nice to get a little mind share here." he gestured with one wing.

They looked to see where he was pointing. Sure enough, a wall was slowly materializing in front of them. And this was no ordinary wall, but a ten foot tall edifice, massive and imposing, that seemed for all the world to be made of solid rock. The great wall, which now looked discouragingly solid, stretched from one horizon to the other, barring the way ahead.

"Now we'll never get anywhere," Josh groaned. "What do we do now?"


For a while they just stared at the wall in silence.

"Maybe if we get closer we can figure something out," Josh suggested. He started walking forward, and they followed.

The wall was farther away than they had thought. As they walked toward it, they began for the first time to understand its true scale. The pieces that made up the wall, which they had at first taken for mere rocks, were actually giant boulders, each easily twice as tall as a person. When they had at last reached the giant construction, it loomed far above them. The rocks at the top of the wall seemed impossibly high up, their jagged outlines framed against the bright cloudless green of the sky.

"What do we do now," Jenny asked, to nobody in particular. She was surprised when Josh answered.

"We could just go through the door," he said.

"Very funny," she made a face. "Anybody else have any ideas?"

Mr. Symarian looked apologetic. "I'm afraid my knowledge does not extend to problems of this sort. Perhaps our demon friend has a suggestion?" He looked down at his shoulder to see that Sid had fallen fast asleep. With one finger he gave the little demon a firm poke. Sid looked around wildly for a moment, then seemed to get his bearings.

With a great show of dignity Sid stood, and looked straight up. "That's a big wall," he said.

"Yes, we know that. How do we get through it," Jenny asked.

"We could just go through the door," Josh repeated.

Jenny glared at him. She was starting to lose her patience. "It wasn't all that funny the first time," she said. "Now if you'll please be quiet I think we'd all like to hear what Sid has to say."

"Glad you asked." The little demon had been giving the wall an appraising look. Now he drew himself up to his full six inches, and paused significantly, until he was sure he had their full attention. "Seems to me that what we got here is what we demons call an impenetrable wall."

"Oh yes, that's helpful," Jenny said sarcastically. "Doesn't anybody have anything useful to say?"

"This is ridiculous," Josh said. He strode to the wall, and with one hand he reached out as if to grab one of the enormous boulders. When he pulled his arm back, he was holding the doorknob of a very ordinary looking wooden door. With his other arm he gestured toward the dark passageway within. "Anybody care to go through the door?"

Sid started to laugh. "Like I was gonna say, the best way through an impenetrable wall is to get yourself a path finder."


The passageway was dark, and smelled vaguely of damp earth. As they made their way through the tunnel they gradually became conscious of a strange bluish glow that seemed to be lighting their way.

Jenny wondered where the light could be coming from. The door they had come through was far behind them by now. On a whim she looked up, and gasped at the sight.

"Look," she said, pointing up. "Fireflies. They are so beautiful!" She gazed up in wonder. The small glowing creatures were flying in intricate paths overhead, weaving in and out as though tracing some sort of delicate pattern in the air. She was sure they must be intelligent. She was vaguely conscious of Josh and Mr. Symarian at her side, also looking up.

"Fascinating," said their teacher. "Actual fire demons. I've read of them, but only as legend. I certainly never thought I would have the opportunity to study these magnificent creatures at such close range."

"Do you think they are friendly," Josh asked.

"Yep, no doubt about it," Sid chimed in. "These here are definitely friendly little guys."

Surprised at his confident tone, Jenny turned to look at the little demon where he was perched on Mr. Symarian's shoulder. "How can you know for sure?"

"Easy," Sid explained with a shrug, "If they weren't friendly, they would have eaten us by now."


There was a change in the pattern of dreams, a dischordant note that did not fit with the dark and endless music. A feeling of rising to the surface, of unwanted light, memories threatening to intrude unbidden upon the cold stillness.

Amelia's eyes opened. Aroused from her timeless slumber, she found herself lying in a bedchamber. Her eyes, unaccustomed to the light, made no attempt to discern the still hazy details of the dimly lit room. Instead, they were drawn to the floating patterns that danced in the air above her.

The fire demons, small and delicate, had come bearing news. Weaving their fine tracery of light upon the air, they told of a change, an intrusion upon the darkness.

Amelia's face slowly assumed first a look of surprise, then a cold mask of fury. With change came the threat of memory reawakening, and with memory would come pain.

This could not be permitted.


By the soft bluish light of the fire demons' glow, they finally reached the other end of the winding tunnel. Against the cave walls, they could now see daylight from around the next bend. Unfortunately, directly in their path and blocking their way, was a rather fearsome looking statue of a giant demon.

"Oh, great," Jenny said. "There's no way we're going to get around this thing."

Sid shrugged. "It could be worse."

Josh chimed in. "The way is completely blocked. How could it be worse?"

Just then the statue came to life. Standing before them now, rather than a mere statue of stone, was a living, breathing demon. At the sight of the four travellers he gave out a roar of anger.

"Like I was saying...," Sid said.

Josh glared at him. "If you say `I told you so', I swear I'm going to kill you before that big ugly demon does."

The demon glared at them and bared his giant teeth. "You have disturbed my slumber. Perhaps you will be my next meal." He took one fearsome step toward them, and the four travellers cowered back in fear.

Then his eyes alighted on Sid, and his monstrous face broke out into an enormous grin. "Sid?"

For a moment Sid looked nonplussed. Then he too broke out into a grin. "Charlie, is that you? You're kinda, well, big."

The big demon let out a laugh, and the deep rumbling sound echoed through the tunnel. "Yeah, needed to be big for this gig. You're one to talk. You're kinda, um, orange, if you don't mind my sayin'."

"Dammit Charlie, you gotta rub it in? You know I don't get to pick the color. Comes with the job."

Mr. Symarian, who had been quietly watching this exchange, at last spoke up. "I take it you two know each other?"


Jenny was getting impatient. Sid and his friend Charlie had been talking for what seemed like hours. They were catching up on old times from long ago, and she gradually realized that "long ago" in this case might mean really, really long ago, as in centuries. Sid had conjured up cigars for the occasion, and he and his fellow demon were puffing away like fiends. Which was only fair, she had to admit -- after all, they were fiends.

After several hours it finally occurred to her that waiting them out might not be the best strategy. The two demons might very well continue swapping stories for years, quite literally. She turned to Mr Symarian. "Is there anything you can do?"

Mr. Symarian stepped up to the giant guardian demon and cleared his throat. "Charles," he said, rather formally. "I should like to remind you that we are engaged in a serious quest, and your, ah, reunion, although quite lovely in its own right, is interfering with our mission."

Sid looked cross at the interruption, while the giant demon, who had been in the middle of relating a rollicking and rather off-color tale concerning a night in Brooklyn with two she-demons, stared down at their teacher with a peculiar look. Jenny was afraid the big demon was going to become violent.

Instead, he started to cry. "You don't know what it's like, hanging out in this stupid wall for ages. This is the first fun I've had in forever." he said through big sobs. Mr. Symarian looked very uncomfortable. He offered a handkerchief, which the giant demon tearfully accepted, dabbing his eyes daintily and then blowing his nose with a loud honk.

The demon offered to return the handkerchief. "Please keep it," the teacher said hastily.

"Thanks," Charlie said, sniffling. Jenny wondered what was going to happen now. Then she had an inspiration.

"Why don't you come with us?"


At last the weary travellers, now five in number, came to the end of the long tunnel. They had finally traversed the great wall.

Jenny gasped at what she saw. For stretched out before them under the emerald sky, as far as the eye could see, was a city of gold.

"Somewhere here," she told her companions, "I will find her".

Charlie turned to her in wonder. "You mean the one who sleeps?" he asked.

The others looked him. "What do you know?" Jenny asked.

He shook his head. "I get it now. You're here to fulfill the prophecy. All I know is it's been a long time since she came, since ... since they took her. There, in the castle." They looked to where he was pointing and saw that there was a single tall golden spire, graceful and gleaming, that rose above the skyline.

"Won't be easy," he continued. "At least not according to the prophecy. They say that all the world will change when Amelia awakes."

Jenny and Josh looked at each other. She repeated the words to herself. "When Amelia awakes."


The distance to the gleaming city on the horizon must have been greater than it looked, Jenny thought. It seemed like countless hours since the travellers had begun crossing the vast plain, as the magnificent skyline on the horizon gradually grew larger. There were long stretches of silence, with no words passed between them.

At last Josh turned to Jenny and said, in a still quiet voice "have you noticed something?"

Jenny was startled out of her reverie, and jumped in surprise at the unexpected sound of a voice. "What?" she said. "Noticed what?"

"We're not hungry. And we're not thirsty. And this has been going on for, like, forever.

Slowly Jenny nodded her head. "Yeah, that's weird."

"Not weird, precisely," came Mr Symarian's voice. "It's the curse, you see. The effect is centered upon the city you see before you. It begins just outside the city itself, and pervades the countryside for a considerable distance in each direction. Within the affected region, time itself appears to change. Two weeks or more can go by, and it might seem to be the very next day. Or the reverse."

At this Sid chimed in. "Yeah, like the little lady said," he grinned. "Weird."


Around the central spire of the palace, the city was circular. There were five ramparts, spaced equally around the circle. Atop each of these ramparts was a flaming torch, eternally lit with a greenish flame the color of the sky. The travellers walked in silence through the seemingly deserted streets. Gradually the sky darkened, and the gloom settled around them like dust.

Charlie was the first to speak. "I remember back when these streets used to be full of life." The large demon looked around with sadness. "It was like one big party here, and everyone was laughin'. I would come home at night through the crowds and it'd just feel great to be alive. I remember once, back when I was just a boy, my mom..."

"Your mom?" Jenny interrupted. "But you're a demon!"

"Yeah," he replied sadly, "You got that right. I am a demon. But I wasn't always like this," he said. "I had a life once -- before I was, um, taken."

"Taken?" she said. "I don't understand."

He shrugged. "Not sure I can explain it right, at least not till you understand more. Reality is, well, a kind of prism, and even truth itself can bend. That's as true on your world as it is on mine. And wherever the light bends, we gotta see what it shows. Sure, I'm now a demon, can't argue with that. Every bit as much as your teacher there," he pointed toward Mr. Symarian, "is now human."

"Mr. Symarian?" Josh broke in, looking at their teacher in alarm. "You weren't always human?"

"Perhaps," their teacher said, smoothly changing the subject, "We can continue this fascinating discussion another time. As you can see, we have arrived at our destination for the night."


As they walked the deserted streets in the gathering gloom, the travellers instinctively huddled together. Josh looked off into the distance, at the five ramparts around the city, each glowing with an eerie green light. He turned to the large demon. "Why does the city have five sides?"

Charlie shook his head. "Didn't always. The city's changed in all kinds of ways, and some of those changes are hard to explain. 'Cause it's not really the city -- it's more like the reality."

Josh looked confused, and the big demon just shrugged and smiled apologetically. "Sorry kid, I'm no good with metaphysics."

Sid chimed in helpfully. "Old Charlie's probably a little out of his depth here. Hey Teach, can you help us out with this one?"

Mr. Symarian smiled sadly. "It is indeed as our large friend says. Since the arrival of She Who Sleeps, it is believed that this reality itself has been changing to reflect her dreams."

"Wait," Jenny said, "are you talking about my grandmother Amelia?"


Bruno sensed something new in the air. Softly he growled. Since time before time, he had been standing watch over his mistress, guarding the way to the castle spire where she slept. In all that time, none had dare cross his path. The mere sight of his fearsome visage had turned away even the hardiest of souls.

But now strangers approached. He did not know how he knew this -- he just knew. He rose slowly, unaccustomed to movement. It had been so long since the last time he had needed to awaken from his eternal vigil.

But now he was fully awake, and his senses were alert. He sniffed the air, seeking a clue to the identity of the invaders. They seemed strange, with a scent in may ways unlike that of the villagers. Above all, these travellers seemed not to have the smell of fear about them.

At least not yet.


The central tower of the city was now in sight, directly in front of them. All the travellers needed to do was proceed forward, and they would surely arrive at their destination. "I think we're nearly there," Jenny said in relief. She couldn't even say how long they had been travelling, and her feet ached terribly.

"No," said Josh, "we have to turn here." He pointed down a narrow dimly lit side street -- really more of an alley than a street.

"What do you mean?" Jenny said, exasperated. "The tower is right there in front of us. I can see it!"

Josh just shook his head. "That way doesn't work. Look, I'm sorry, I don't know how I know, but I just know. If we go that way, we'll die."

Jenny was about to say something in response, something she was sure would have been cutting and clever, when Sid interjected. "He's the path finder, remember? Whatever he says, goes."

"Oh right," she said. She looked at Mr. Symarian and Charlie, and they all nodded in agreement. She came to her senses. If Josh said it wasn't safe, then it wasn't safe.

The travellers turned into the alley, just in time to miss he low grumble of a sound far, far down the main road -- the path they had not taken. It sounded like nothing so much as a deep growling, the kind a dog might make if strangers approached.


Josh moved purposefully through the dark streets, and the others followed. He seemed to know the way now, almost as though he'd been here before. Jenny saw a look of grim concentration on her friend's face. It wasn't a look she remembered ever seeing before -- at school Josh had always seemed so unserious. "How well do we know anyone?" she mused.

But at that moment Jenny's thoughts were interrupted when Josh stopped abruptly in his tracks.

"What is it?" Mr. Symarian said.

Josh just stood silently for a moment. His eyes seemed to refocus, to come back to the here and now. "I don't really know. It just feels like I'm supposed to stop."

Suddenly Jenny gasped out loud. "This buildling," she said, pointing to the building they had stopped in front of, "look at it. Josh, what do you see?"

"Looks like a building to me," he said, looking puzzled.

"I'll second that," Sid said. "Definitely a building. Tall, square, kinda rococo, not really my thing."

"Shhh!," Jenny said. "Sid, be quiet. This is important. Josh, haven't you seen this somewhere before?"

Josh stared at the building for a good long while. Then recognition dawned. "It looks just like your music box -- the one from the attic. Only bigger. And there's no ballerina on top."


Now that she knew the connection, Jenny was seeing the city with new eyes. "Do you realize," she said, "that just about every building we're passing has something about it that connects to the attic in my house?"

"Could you maybe give a fer-instance?" Sid asked.

"Well, look at that tree," she said, pointing. "It's the same tree that's in the picture you see right when you walk up the stairs to the attic. And that old car right there -- in that driveway -- it's exactly the same model as the toy car on the window sill."

"Wait," Josh said, "how can you remember so many details about what's in your attic?"

"The attic has always been my get-away place", Jenny explained, the words suddenly coming out all in a rush. "After Dad was gone, things were never the same, and I really just needed some place to hide. The attic was the one place in the world I knew I could go to be alone, especially when Mom was in one of her moods. She would never go up those stairs -- ever. It's like she was scared of something. So when I was little, and even after I wasn't so little, I would spend whole days up there by myself, exploring, looking in all the drawers and on the closet shelves, finding stuff. There was always something new. It was kind of like a treasure hunt on my own private island. I always thought it was just the most completely unique place..."

All at once she stopped herself. She realized her companions were all staring at her.

"I mean," she added, looking around, "until now."


Mists rose up in her vision, and formed themselves into shapes almost familiar, only to change into something altogether different. Some part of Amelia's tumbling thoughts tried to remember, to fit the pieces together, to find the elusive pattern. But every time a picture began to emerge, something within her mind cried out in warning, and the darkness once again descended.

She remembered a little dog -- Bruno. He was small, but full of life, her joy, her greatest delight. There had been a room, a bed, the little table with keepsakes, an impression of a framed picture, of someone she had once known. All of these were part of the vision, but only Bruno was distinct.

She remembered the moment it had all changed, the fear and anger congealing into something -- something beyond understanding. It was all so unclear. Still she knew that Bruno had tried to defend her, to stand in the way of danger. And now he was changed, changed beyond recognition. Yet he remained her guardian, her protector, and nobody could reach her while he stood watch.

Out in the lonely deserted streets, a massive beast pricked up his ears. He had caught a stray thought, no more than a thread woven from a dream, but it was enough. In her way she was calling out to him, and he would let nothing disturb her slumber. With a low growl, he shifted upon his massive haunches, and with slow and inexorable force began to move to intercept the invaders.

It had started out as a friendly discussion, but now Charlie and Sid were locked in argument. Voices were raised. Sid would certainly have been red in the face by now, if his face were not already a bright shade of something very much like red.

Jenny and Josh were watching the back and forth, somewhat too stunned to do anything but listen. The voices of the two demons rang loudly in the eerie silence of the seemingly deserted space.

"I say it was a growl, like a wild animal!" Charlie was practically shouting. "There's something out there."

"I say it was just your big stomach growling," said Sid, staring him down, "and I say you're full of it."

It was at this point that Mr. Symarian finally stepped in. "Sid," he said, in his most reasonable tone. "I believe that I can offer a definitive refutation of your line of reasoning."

Sid looked over at the teacher. He seemed to realize for the first time that he had been shouting. "OK teach," he said, "I'm listening. After trying to talk sense to this big lug, I'm all for a fresh angle on things."

"Very well," Mr. Symarian proceeded. "If I understand correctly, you claim that the growling noise we heard earlier was the result of gastrointestinal activity on the part of this fellow over here," he said, gesturing toward Charlie's generous abdomen. "Yet it is well known, among those versed in the polydemonological sciences, that demons have no stomachs."

There was a pause, and then Sid shrugged. "OK, you got me. I forgot about that. No stomach, no growling." He turned to his considerably larger fellow demon. "Sorry Charlie, I get carried away sometimes."

Charlie responded jovially. "Hey, no biggie. That's why I like you." The two demons grinned at each other.

"I hate to break up this love-fest," Josh interjected. "But aren't you all forgetting something?"

The others looked at him quizzically. "I think," he continued, "it stands to reason that if somebody heard growling, and if it wasn't Charlie's stomach, then there's something out there. It's probably not friendly, and it might be really big."

Together they all turned, and stared out into the darkness.


"So ok, are we waiting for some giant creature to appear out of the darkness and eat us?" Josh said. "Not to be, like, alarmist or anything."

"It is a valid question," Mr. Symarian said, "the answer to which would require information which, at present, we woefully lack."

"Nice!" Charlie said.

The teacher looked puzzled. "What precisely is 'nice' about the possibility of being eaten?"

"No, I mean that great way you say things. Very nice. I could listen to you all day."

"Yeah, me too Charlie," Sid said. "Unless we get eaten first. Maybe we aughta focus here. What do we know?"

"Well," Josh said, "Jenny said this place reminded her of the attic."

"Yes," Mr. Symarian said, looking thoughtful. "It would appear that everything we are witnessing here is, in some sense, a reflection of Jenny's mind."

"Or my grandmother's mind," Jenny said. The others all looked at her. "I mean, think about it. The attic is pretty much the same now as it was when she was a girl. And I'm not the one under some kind of spell, with demons and stuff." She grinned apologetically at Sid and Charlie. "No offense intended."

"None taken," Sid said, a little too quickly.


"I have a definite feeling about this city," Josh said, as he took a right turn at the next corner. "I think if we can just take the correct path, then that thing -- whatever it is -- can't get to us."

"I sure hope you're right," Jenny said. She noticed that the turns were coming faster now, as they zigzagged their way along one dark and narrow street after another. Over the tops of the deserted houses, she could see that the tower was definitely nearer.

"The kid's got a good track record so far," Sid said. "If we wanna stay alive, we all better stick close to him."

The angry growling now seemed to be consistently off to one side, as though the beast was tracking them, trying to find a way to get to them through the winding maze of streets.

"Can you think of anything that could shed light on the nature of the beast?" Mr. Symarian asked Jenny. "This city, in its current state, appears to reflect your grandmother's memories in some peculiar way. Is there, perhaps, something you might remember about her that could provide some insight?"

Jenny thought hard, reaching back into her memories from childhood. "Well, grandma Amelia had a dog."

"Aha, I knew it!" Sid said. "A great big slobbering beast, right? Some kinda guard dog or something. I'll bet it was a real man-eater."

"No, actually," Jenny said, trying to think back. "It was quite a little thing. Very gentle and sweet. And completely devoted to my grandmother. They were inseparable."

"Well, that blows my theory," Sid said with a shrug. "Just out of curiosity, did this itty bitty dog have a name?"

"Yes," Jenny said, suddenly remembering, "His name was Bruno."


There was a look of infinite sadness on his face. He gazed down upon her, sleeping so peacefully, and once again he was struck by the power of his feelings for her. He remembered back to the time, long before, when he had first set eyes upon her picture, this woman from another world -- another universe -- and in that moment his entire life had changed.

How can one explain the power of love? By any measure it is a single-minded and insane act of trust. But it was precisely this trust that sustained him, that kept him going. Thinking upon all this, he brushed a stray hair from her forehead.

How could there be such sadness, even in the presence of such beauty? "Amelia," he whispered. "Amelia...."



The city was old.

Some said it was as old as the stones themselves. Some said it had always existed, a thing beyond time. And now time itself held no meaning. There was only the endless night, the pale green light that never changed, and the mist that never left.

Outside the palace walls, the mist now rose and swirled. He had observed long ago that its movements reflected his mood, and there were times when he had looked out through the palace windows at the swirling shapes, vainly hoping to learn the secrets of his own mind.

But now the mist went unnoticed. His footsteps echoed as he walked through the bare halls, as he crossed the empty tapestried rooms. Where once were parties, voices, echoes of music and laughter, these walls now echoed only with his footsteps, for there was no other sound.

He paused just outside the bedchamber, and thought about the city -- his city. He knew that rumors of the city swirled about like mist. Such foolishness, such empty patterns in the air. He, alone among all, knew the true nature the city, for it was his nature as well.

He stared into the mirror, at the ageless face that stared back. Can this be my true face, he wondered, or is this merely another illusion? For what is a face that never changes, but a mask?


It had been a harrowing time. The beast had seemed to come quite near several times, but at the last moment Josh had always known which way to turn. After many bends and twists in their path, the travelers now found themselves at the tower itself, but in a decrepit little dead-end alley, littered with junk. The place looked abandoned, with old bottles and jars and pieces of bric-a-brac piled into a corner.

There was nothing at all auspicious about their location, except the door. Or at least, it was sort of a door. There was clearly the outline of a door, arched at the top, and the door itself was made of a distinctly different stone than the tower wall. Yet there was no handle, no visible hinge, nothing that could tell them how to operate the doorway.

"Well," Jenny said.

"You can say that again sister," Sid joined in.

"Tales of this place speak of a riddle that one must solve before one may enter the tower," said Mr. Symarian.

"You mean like what's her name -- the one with the big statue," Charlie said.

"Lady Liberty?" Josh asked, looking confused.

"I think Charlie's talking about the Sphynx," Jenny said.

"Yeah, that's the one," Charlie nodded.

"Yes," Mr. Symarian continued, "precisely. But what is the riddle? What we are facing is clearly a door, yet one without egress."

"Egrets?" Sid said, looking alarmed. "Nobody said there'd be egrets. I hate birds."

"Egress," the teacher explained. "From the latin egressus. `A place or means of coming out.' I should have thought it was a common enough word."

"Big intellectual," Sid sniffed. "While we're standin' here talking about statues or egrets or whatever, that beast is getting closer every minute. And in case you didn't notice, this here's a dead end."

Josh looked pale. "Um, Sid, could you try not to use the word 'dead'?"

But Jenny was looking at the doorway thoughtfully. "I think," she said, "we're going to need to figure out that riddle."


"You are quite correct," Mr. Symarian said. "But it is not that simple. This is undoubtedly an expression of some unconscious conflict. In your -- er, our -- world such a conflict merely leads to neurosis, or worse. In a magical world the same conflict will tend to manifest itself physically, as a riddle embedded into the world itself."

"Hell," Sid said, "if we've figured one thing out, it's that this whole damned place is some kind of manifestation of the kid's grandma. Including that big scary dog." As he said this last part, he looked around nervously.

"Which means," said Josh, "that to solve this riddle we probably need to understand something about Jenny's grandmother."

"Wait," Jenny said. "This is familiar. I remember my mom telling me grandma Amelia loved silly riddles. One of her favorites was about a door."

Suddenly Charlie started laughing. "Hey kids, I think I've got it. But it's really stupid."

They all looked at him. "C'mon, you know it," he said, grinning from ear to pointy ear, "when is a door not a door?"

Josh and Jenny answered at the same time. "When it's ajar!"

The travelers all turned to look at the pile of abandoned junk in the corner of the alley. But this time they knew to look at the jars. And inside one of those jars was something that looked very much like a doorknob.


Somehow it was understood that Josh, as the path finder, would be the one to pick up the jar. The others watched as he unscrewed the lid and reached inside. He looked curiously at the perfectly ordinary looking brass doorknob he held in his hand. Walking over to Jenny, he handed it to her. "I think you should be the one to do this."

Jenny took the doorknob from Josh and walked over to the doorway, trying to act like she knew what she was doing. She was aware that everyone was watching her. Feeling slightly silly, she put the doorknob into position, in roughly the place she imagined a real one would go.

For a long moment nothing happened. Then, almost imperceptibly, she felt the knob shift slightly in her hand, and from somewhere inside the door she could hear, or perhaps feel, a strange low hum. Experimentally, she tried taking her hand away from the doorknob. Instead of falling to the floor, the knob stayed in place, apparently stuck to the door. She turned to the others with a silly grin on her face. "There, did it."

"Not yet, kid," said Sid. "You still gotta open the door."

"Oh, right," she said, and tried rotating the doorknob to the left. It turned freely in her hand, and with a satisfying click, the door swung open.


In her mind, Jenny had all kinds of ideas what to expect on the other side of the door. But nothing had prepared her for the sight that now greeted her. For inside the tower was an entire world. "Come and look!" she said.

One by one the others entered through the doorway, and stood spellbound, gazing in wonder upon the sight. There were green mountains, dappled with sunlight, with rivers flowing lazily down their slopes, and majestic trees rising into the sky. It was as though they had left the world of the city entirely, and had entered a different universe altogether.

"How is this possible?" Josh asked.

"In an enchanted world, all things are possible," explained Mr. Symarian. "The physical extent of this place is bounded only by our own minds. I believe it was Albert Einstein who once observed that "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one...."

"Well I'll be damned," Sid interrupted.

Mr. Symarian began to shoot Sid a look of withering annoyance, but then turned to follow the gaze of the little demon, who was staring at Charlie in open-mouthed astonishment.

Jenny too was gazing at Charlie with wide eyes. For as soon as they had entered the tower walls, the spell upon Charlie had fallen away, and he now stood before them in his true form. "Charlie," she said breathlessly, "You are so ... beautiful!"


Jenny couldn't stop staring. "Is it really still you Charlie?" she asked. Before her, instead of a demon, was a handsome young man who seemed to be made of pure gold.

Charlie looked down at his hands. His fingers were long and delicate and golden, they way they had once been. He smiled. "This is the way I really am -- the way I was. And this is how my people look. Or at least, the way we used to look, before the change."

"Ah yes," said Mr. Symarian. "now that we are within its walls, the tower is protecting our companion against the enchantment. I this this may be a sign that we are nearing our goal."

"I think it's wonderful," Jenny smiled at Charlie, suddenly feeling a little shy.

"Well, I think it's a waste of time," Josh said. "So now Charlie's made of gold, get over it. Weren't we supposed to be on a mssion here?"

Jenny looked at Josh with annoyance. "What's your problem?"

Sid looked from Jenny to Josh, and ruffled his wings in amusement. "Call me crazy, but I got a feelin' the kid's jealous."

Jenny realized that Josh was now blushing. She gave him a long hard look, and then she broke out in a grin. "Sid, I've got a feeling you're right." She leaned over and planted a kiss on Josh's cheek. "And I think it's sweet."

For a moment Josh looked stunned. Then he smiled. "I guess, um, Charlie doesn't look so bad in gold."


He walked over to the table, and gazed down upon the miniature landscape -- the tiny rolling mountains, miniature lakes and fields. Floating over all were the drifting white clouds, hovering in the air, perfectly formed in every detail. It all looked so serene, so untouched by time.

He held no illusions -- time itself was his enemy. For time could so easily change everything, unless something were done. Slowly, delicately, he passed one hand over the table, speaking words in an ancient tongue as his fingers moved in an intricate pattern.

For a few moments nothing happened. Then the tiny clouds started to gather, to darken. The air beneath began to stir ominously. He gazed mournfully upon his handiwork for a long moment, until he could see the first tiny flashes of lightning.

Then he turned away.


They were half way across the meadow, with Josh leading them confidently toward the mountain pass, when the first dark clouds appeared in the sky. The wind began to pick up, and Jenny started to notice a distinct drop in the weather. "Mr. Symarian?" she said.

"Yes Jenny."

"How can there be weather inside a tower?"

"An interesting question," Mr. Symarian replied. "Yes, a very interesting question indeed. One might as well ponder how there can be mountains inside a tower. "

"What you said just there, I don't think that's an answer," Sid pointed out helpfully.

Mr. Symarian was about to make a reply when the first drops of rain began to fall. He looked up into the now distinctly darker sky with a worried expression. Before them a dark cloud hovered in the air. Below this cloud the air was dark and roiling. It was clear that the storm was rapidly heading toward them.

"I'm pretty sure I know the way," Josh said, pointing ahead, "but I'm not sure I can get us there in a storm like that."

"I think I can help," Charlie said. "At least, I used to be able to do this. It might still work." The others all turned to look at him as his face assumed a look of concentration. Soon his golden skin began to glow with a warm inner light. Gradually the light expanded, until it was a translucent golden globe about ten feet in diameter, centered upon Charlie.

Sid was the first to break the awed silence. "I don't know about you guys, but I'm gettin' out from under the rain."

Soon they were all gathered into the glowing aethereal sphere that surrounded Charlie. When they were all assembled within, safe and warm despite the howling winds outside, Josh suddenly realized he knew exactly where to go.

"We have to go this way," he said. Confidently he began to walk, and the others followed.


In spite of the howling winds all around them, Jenny felt oddly safe. She was enfolded in the golden warmth of Charlie's protective shield, she had her friends about her, and Josh clearly knew the way. With the rush of events, each stranger than the last, she realized that she hadn't had time to think, to really let herself understand what was going on.

What did she really know about Grandma Amelia? The family history was vague -- maybe deliberately vague. Her grandfather had loved her grandmother very much, and everyone had always thought it went both ways. But then one Sunday afternoon, when Jenny's mother was still a girl, Grandma Amelia had just vanished. Apparently people had looked everywhere, but she was never found. The only thing they knew was that she had said, just before she'd disappeared, that she needed to go up into the attic. But if she really went up there that Sunday afternoon, she never came down.

Ever since that day, Jenny's mother had refused to go up into the attic -- ever -- even after she'd inherited the family house. The mystery of Grandma Amelia's disappearance was so central to Jenny's family, so taken for granted all her life, that she'd hardly ever given it much thought.

Until now.


They had gone past the mountains now, beyond the rain and hills. They had passed the last tree a while back, and it seemed that there was nothing now but a featureless plain. Jenny was wondering whether they would walk this way forever, but Josh led them onward, seeming confident in their direction.

At last they could see a vast lake spread out before them. It grew gradually larger, until it was perhaps thirty yards away. "I guess this is the end of the line," Sid said. "Too bad kid, you really tried."

"No," Josh said, "We need to keep going."

"But it's a lake!" Jenny said, "we can't very well walk on water."

"Come on," Josh insisted, and he continued to walk forward.

With nothing else to do, the others followed. Jenny wondered whether they would all find that they could breathe underwater. Odder things had happened since this journey had started.

Strangely, the lake did not appear to get any closer. No matter how much they walked forward, the water line remained just about thirty yards away. But now something else was happening -- a shimmering in the air before them.

"Of course," said Mr. Symarian, "I should have guessed, a shielding spell! Such spells can be broken only by proximity."

With every step now, the shape before them was growing clearer, and larger. Suddenly it was standing before them, as clear as day.

"What is this place?" Charlie asked.

"I'm not sure," Jenny replied, "but it looks exactly like my house."


Inside the house, everything looked different. The furniture looked like it was from maybe forty years ago, and there was no trace of day-to-day life. No newspapers lying around, or plates from breakfast, or any of the little things that let you know a house has people living in it. Just an eerie silence.

Charlie was looking around at the house with a mixture of fear and awe on his face. "What strange place is this?" he asked, as they passed through the living room, the den, the kitchen. His gaze lingered for a particularly long time at the gas stove. "There seem to be objects of power here. Are you a great wizard?"

"No," Jenny said, feeling strangely pleased in spite of herself. "Where I come from this is just ordinary stuff. Everybody's house looks kind of like this. Except we're supposed to have an electric stove, not a gas stove."

"Amazing," Charlie said, and smiled at Jenny shyly in a way that she found rather sweet. She noticed that Josh was starting to look distinctly annoyed, which for some reason she also found rather sweet.

"I believe," said Mr. Symarian, oblivious to all of this, "that this is the house the way your grandmother would have known it. Also, what you might refer to as 'the fruits of modern technology' simply have no parallel in the other world. To one who has never seen them, such objects would indeed appear to be a form of wizardry. It is said that to the tribal peoples of southern..."

"Hey Doc, not to interrupt yer lecture or anything," Sid said, interrupting, "but what're we supposed to do now?"

"Unless you guys are too busy talking," Josh said, "now we go upstairs."


The first thing they noticed when they got to the top of the stairs was the strange green glow. At first it was hard to tell where it came from. Then Charlie pointed. "Look, under that door." There was indeed an eerie green glow coming from under the door of one bedroom.

Without hesitating Josh walked up to the door. "Wait!" said Jenny in alarm, but Josh was already reaching out to turn the knob. "It's locked", he said.

"Clearly we are nearing our goal," said Mr. Symarian. "I suspect we will find the answers we seek from whatever is in the room behind that door."

"That's my room," Jenny said. "I mean, it was my room back in the real world."

The others looked at her. "Any chance," Josh said, "that it used to be your grandmother's room?"

"Yes, of course it was!" Jenny said. "Josh, you're a genius! You know, it's funny -- I used to find her old stuff sometimes tucked away in the back of the drawers and closets. It was really strange because I was sure my mom had gotten rid of it all, but somehow it would come back. I never really knew what was going on. It doesn't seem so strange now."

"Nothing seems so strange now," Josh said, grinning. "But how are we going to get through that door?"

"I think Sid can help with that," said Mr. Symarian.

"Hey," said Sid, "you told me I wasn't supposed to do that kind of stuff."

Mr. Symarian smiled. "I believe that we can make an exception in this particular case."

"What kind of stuff?" Jenny asked.

The little demon grinned at her, looking very happy for once. "Carry me over to the lock on that door and I'll show you."


"Sid," Charlie said, "are you sure you want Jenny to carry you over to the door?"

Sid looked puzzled. "How the hell else am I supposed to get there?"

"Think about it," said Charlie. "As soon as we passed through the tower walls, I got my powers back."

Sid just stared at him a moment, and then turned to look at Mr. Symarian. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"You never asked," Mr. Symarian said. "And I thought it best to not to encourage you. You may recall what happened the last time..."

"Sheesh, you gotta be kiddin' me." the little demon said, rolling his eyes. "All this time..." He spread his wings and gave them an experimental little flap. And rose several inches into the air. Then several more.

"That's wonderful!" Jenny said, and clapped her hands. Sid was now flying around the room with a big grin on his face, happily trying out his now functional wings. He was still beaming like the cat that ate the canary when he flew straight into a wall and dropped like a rock.

"Ouch, that must hurt," said Josh.

"Only my pride," the little demon said, brushing himself off. "Us demons, we're a hardy bunch. Now, lemme at that lock." And with a cheerful wink at Jenny, he lifted straight into the air and flew toward the locked door.


It took only a few moments for Sid, with sure movements of his long taloned fingers, to pick the lock. And then the door sprung open.

The other travelers walked hesitantly to the door. Inside, the room was bathed in an eerie green light. There was a bed in the middle of the room, over which the light was brightest.

"C'mon," Josh whispered. "We're supposed to go over to the bed." He held out his hand to Jenny.

Jenny had her doubts, but if Josh said it was the right thing to do, then she was sure it would be ok. She took his hand, and followed him over to the bed.

Lying there, apparently asleep, was her grandmother Amelia. She knew it had to be her grandmother, because she had seen pictures, but the strange thing was that woman lying on the bed was young -- impossibly young.

"It's my grandmother," Jenny said, "but she she's supposed to be a lot older than this."

"But of course she cannot be older than this," came a voice from behind them.

Jenny whirled around, and found herself staring at a spectral figure. She wasn't sure what she was looking at. It was like he was there and not there at the same time. Indistinctly, she could make out a sad face over a shimmering body. She realized the face was talking.

"I have known that this day would come, and that you would try to take away my precious Amelia."


Mr. Symarian spoke softly to Jenny. "None of us can speak to him but you. This part of the journey must be yours alone."

Jenny felt more than a little intimidated, but she knew she must face the spectral creature. "Who are you?" she asked, not really sure whether she wanted to know the response.

"That is a very difficult question to answer. I am not sure the concepts would make sense to you. But know that I am not from your time, not from time itself. It is quite difficult for me to cross this bridge, to ... speak with you."

Jenny forged ahead. "What do you want with my grandmother?"

"I am drawn to her beauty, for beauty -- not just outer beauty, but the inner light itself -- is a thing outside of time. I was drawn to this light within Amelia. I do not know, even now, whether she was aware of it herself. But I was drawn to it as a moth is drawn to a flame. And in my way, I have tried to preserve this light."

"By keeping her asleep?"

"By keeping her out of time. For time is the destroyer."

"Time," Jenny said, "is where we live."


The specter pondered this for a long while. "Time flows well here, where you live. But that is not so everywhere."

Jenny was starting to see the immensity of the gulf between them. She racked her brains trying to think of a way to bridge the gap. "Don't you have time where you come from? Hasn't anything ever happened to you that you wish you could undo?"

The specter seemed to think for a moment. "It is different," he said. "the past and future flow together here, like a river, washing away all in its path. For us, time is a landscape, a place where memories are real -- not merely illusions, as they are here."

"'Us'?" Jenny asked quietly. "Who is 'us'?'


Josh was getting tired of waiting. "You sure Jenny's ok in there?"

"There is nothing to worry about," Mr. Symarian said. "He will not harm her."

"He'd better not!" Josh said, his hands balled into fists.

"You misunderstand me," the teacher said. "They may converse, but no more. This house and all within are mere illusions. The two of them are speaking to each other across a vast divide. He has no power over her here. Jenny may as well fear the shadow that falls upon the floor."

"Are we all shadows then?" Charlie asked, a note of doubt in his voice.

"Do not worry. You are quite real. It is only this tower that is a thing of illusion."

"Mr. Symarian, how come you know all these things?" said Josh.

"Kid," Sid said, with a flutter of his wings, "You don't know the half of it."


"What do you mean, I don't know the half of it?" Josh asked.

"We can tell him now, right teach?" Sid said.

"Yes, I cannot imagine what harm would come of it at this point," Mr. Symarian said. "The truth is always simpler, when that option becomes available."

"What are you two talking about?" Charles said.

"I believe," the teacher continued, "we are discussing the nature of my existence. You see, I have been engaged in a bit of subterfuge."

"All this time you've been lying to us about who you are?" Josh asked, looking annoyed. "That is so rude!"

"Not exactly lying," Mr. Symarian said, looking a bit flustered at this response. "I have indeed been your teacher these past months. I assure you that my credentials in that regard are quite in order. In fact, I daresay that my credentials are in better order than those of of many of my colleagues. One needn't be an expert in the science of pedagogy to realize that..."

"Yer gettiin' off topic teach," Sid said. "The kid wants to know what the deal is with you."

"Well, to begin, I am not, as you might say, 'human'." Mr. Symarian said, and paused dramatically.

"Gee, why am I not surprised?" Josh replied, rolling his eyes. "To tell you the truth, I've been starting to get used to this stuff. What's it going to be this time? Alien?"

The teacher looked indignant. "I assure you..."

But Josh wasn't finished. "Hold on, let me guess. Angel? Banshee?"

"No, I'm afraid..."

"Bigfoot, blob, bogeyman or brownie?"

"Young man..." Mr. Symarian said.

"Centaur? Changeling? Cherub? Chimaera? Cyclops?"

"Do I appear to have one eye?" the teacher managed to interject.

"Good point," Josh said. "Wait, I'll get it. Demon would be too easy. Let's see... Djinn? Doppelgänger?"

"Actually no, but my brother..."

But Josh wasn't finished. "Dwarf, dybbuk, elf or fairy? Or wait, I know ... you're a sprite!"

"None of those are ..."

"Wait," Josh said. "I'll get it. Gargoyle, ghost, ghoul, gnome, goat man? Goblin? Gremlin? You're not the grim reaper are you?"

Mr. Symarian was beginning to get annoyed. "If I were, by now you would be..."

Josh cut him off. "Harpy? Headless Horseman? Hippogriff? Hydra? Jabberwock, kraken, leprechaun, leviathan? Loch Ness Monster? Medusa?"

"This is awesome," Charlie said. "Go for it Josh."

"Actually," the teach said weakly, the Medusa is a ..."

"Oh right", Josh said. "Merman? Minotaur? Mummy? Phoenix or poltergeist? Oh I know! Quetzalcoatl!"

"Joshua," Mr. Symarian said sternly. "I do believe you are being..."

"Satyr? Selkie? Troll? Vampire? Werewolf? Wraith? Oh I know ... zombie!"

"If you are quite finished," the teacher said breathlessly.

"Guess I am," Josh said, smiling, "Unless there's a letter after 'Z'. Sid?"

The little demon was working hard to hold back a laugh. "No more letters kid. I'm pretty sure you're ok there."


"The plural seems more natural," said the specter. "To speak of an individual is to speak from a fixed position in time. The concept is clear, but the reality is difficult. All time exists, in a glorious tapestry. Your grandmother, once removed from the oppressive 'now', possesses all the joy that she has ever experienced."

Jenny frowned. "I think I understand, but I'm not sure. It's like you're saying a movie is the same as a sculpture. But they're not the same."

The specter remained silent for a long moment. When he again spoke, his voice was very quiet. "You will need to see for yourself."

"See what?" Jenny said. But before she could utter another word, the room seemed to rush around her, as though she were being pulled into a tunnel. She felt herself trying to cry out, but the sound from her throat merely hung in the air somewhere before her eyes, like a smudge upon a vast canvas.

It took some time for her mind to process what she was experiencing. Everything was smooshed together, and nothing made any sense. Gradually she began to perceive landmarks. There was her mom, but her mom was young, younger than Jenny had ever seen her. And also old, all at once. She saw days in her life, events she had barely remembered, suddenly there before her, clear as day, as though they were happening right now.

But "happening" wasn't exactly the right word. Jenny found she could move around everything, like walking around a sculpture. Depending on where she went, any moment she looked at seemed different, like when Josh gave her a frog for her eleventh birthday or the day her dad died. As she changed her point of view, the same day could be sad or happy, funny or just plain weird. It was strange and familiar at the same time, like she'd always known all those ways of seeing things, but hadn't really been paying attention.

It was all too much, this everything at once. She tried to speak, to say she wanted it to stop, but it was no use. There was no "now" to speak from. Maybe if she could get to the present, to the room -- the day -- where they had been talking. She had to find her way back.

And that's when Jenny saw her grandmother Amelia. But not the way she had ever seen her grandmother before -- the way he saw her. It all came rushing in at once, filling her head.

And then everything went black.


Mr. Symarian looked distinctly put out. "Josh, I take you are quite finished now."

"Yes," Josh said, smiling contentedly, "I am quite finished now."

"Very well," the teacher said, "it is time for me to reveal my true nature." He paused dramatically.

There was a long silence. The silence grew longer.

Finally Josh couldn't stand it anymore. "Well?" he said. "I'm waiting."

"I stand before you, Mr. Symarian intoned. "Transformed!" And again he held his pose.

"I don't get it," Josh said.

"I told ya teach," Sid said. "They don't get that kind of stuff around here. It's too, you know, dimensional."

"Dimensional?" Charlie asked. "What's dimensional about standing there looking exactly the same as before?"

"You wanna I should explain it to them?" Sid asked.

"Yes," the teacher said, looking disheartened. "I suppose someone should."

"He's not the same as before," Sid said. "You're looking through the back now."

"The back?" Josh said. "The back of what?"

"The back of him. See, the teacher here is higher dimensional. He's got other directions -- you just can't see 'em. This is a big trick where he comes from -- flip over and show everyone the other side. I keep explaining to him that down here the back side and the front side look the same. But does he listen? Does he ever listen?"

"You guys are making this stuff up," Josh said, "aren't you?"

Sid sighed. "Teach, turn half way first."

Suddenly Mr. Symarian was gone. Josh and Charlie looked in astonishment at the space where he had just been. Then, just as suddenly as he had vanished, he reappeared in the same spot.

"Hey," Charlie said. "How did you do that?"

"I simply took the advice of our little friend here. I rotated a quarter circle, paused for a moment, and then rotated another quarter circle. I must say I find this entire episode extremely disappointing. As you can see, I have now returned to my original orientation."

"I can't see any difference," Josh said, looking over at Charlie. "Can you see any difference?" Charlie just shook his head.

"See teach?" Sid said cheerfully, "It's like I been tellin' ya. On this world they really can't tell the front from the back. But the quarter turn trick -- that gets 'em every time."


When Jenny awoke she was standing back out in the hallway, surrounded by her fellow travelers. "How did I get back out here?" she asked.

"You walked out the door," Josh said, looking at her with a concerned expression that she found oddly pleasing. "Don't you remember?"

"I don't remember anything after -- oh wait. I learned that time is just another dimension, if you know how to look at it."

"Seems like today is a real banner day for higher dimensions," Charlie said. "My head is starting to hurt."

Sid laughed. "Maybe you're just outa' your depth."

Jenny looked puzzled. "Am I missing something?"

Josh explained. "Before you came back, Mr. Symarian was explaining to us how there are more dimensions than the three we can see. Is that right?"

"Yes, quite correct," the teacher said. "But I believe Jenny is speaking of something else entirely."

"Yes," she said excitedly. "Time is something like Mr. Symarian's extra dimensions, but it's also different. The past and the future don't have to be strung out on a line, like the way we think about it. They can all be together, like when you look at a painting."

"Cool!" Josh said. "Does that mean you can tell the future?"

Jenny thought for a moment, then shook her head slowly. "No, I don't think so. It's not something we, um, humans can do."

"Why not?" Josh asked.

"Well, maybe you could know the future, but I think that even if you did know it, it wouldn't matter anyway. I mean, once you know all the things that haven't happened yet, you start to think differently, and you stop caring about words like 'before' and 'after'. And then it turns out you can't change anything at all, because to do something -- anything -- you need to decide what to do, and you can't decide what to do if you don't have a before and an after. So basically, having all time mushed together in your head would make you crazy, and you can't do anything about anything if you're crazy." She stopped, realizing that the others were all staring at her. "Does that make any sense?" she finished weakly.

"Yes, that makes perfect sense," said Mr. Symarian.


Amelia looked at herself in the mirror. She liked to wander up in the attic, she'd always felt comfortable there. Sometimes it was just her, and other times she sensed -- she called it the shadow. She wasn't sure when she'd first become aware of it. Sometime in the last two years more or less.

But she also had a feeling that the shadow had always been there. She wasn't scared of it exactly -- it wouldn't make sense to be scared of it. That would be like being scared of your own dreams. And the shadow was something that had definitely come out of her dreams, she was sure about that.

The best way to know if it was there was to look in the mirror. It's not that she could see it exactly, more that her own reflection looked different when the shadow was there. Older somehow, but not really older. More like the idea of being older, even though she looked exactly the same.

She shook her head. So many times she'd been tempted to tell somebody, to explain it. It's hard to keep something like this to yourself. But she always ended up realizing just how crazy it would sound. And she definitely didn't want anyone to think she was crazy.

Besides, she had a feeling that if she told anyone, the shadow wouldn't like it.


After a while, Amelia had just gotten used to him being there. She'd decided at some point that the shadow was definitely a "he", although she couldn't exactly say why. In any case, it was nice to know that even when she was alone, she probably wasn't really alone.

Sometimes when she was with a boy, she would feel the shadow's presence, and she'd wonder what the boy would have thought if he knew. Sometimes she was almost tempted to tell, just to see what would happen. But of course she never did.

Not even when she met the boy she was going to marry. He was very sweet, and she knew right away they were going to get married. But of course she always knew what was going to happen. This wasn't something she'd realized all at once, but gradually she had picked up a way of thinking from the shadow, of seeing that the future is really just like the past, except in a mirror. Once you see that, then you can see how to remember things that haven't happened yet.

The hardest part was not letting people know, and remembering to act surprised when she was supposed to be surprised, or scared when she was supposed to be scared. That time the tree fell in the yard and killed aunt Emma, it was hard not to tell anybody beforehand. She had to go through the whole morning like nothing was going to happen. The shadow said it was important to act like you don't know things until they happen.


Jenny was torn. On the one hand she wanted to go back into the room, to rescue her grandmother from this strange force that was holding her. On the other hand, she wasn't sure that it was the right thing to do. There were clearly things about this that she didn't understand. What if her grandmother Amelia was actually in the right place? Although it seemed completely alien -- incomprehensible -- perhaps there was another way of existing, a way of being outside of time, that was also ok.

She looked at her friends. None of them could possibly understand what she was feeling. None of them had ever been outside of time. For them, things were easy. One thing happens, and then another, and then something else. It's all so simple when things happen in order. But what if things aren't that simple?

But they were her friends -- and the ones she trusted the most. There was no getting around it -- she would have to talk with them about this, even though the things she was talking about would probably sound crazy.

Jenny took a deep breath. This wasn't going to be easy.


"I don't think I can go through that door again," Jenny said with a shudder. "Talking to it -- him -- plays funny games with your head."

"Well," said Mr. Symarian, "It would appear that the only way for you to reach your grandmother is to proceed by stealth."

"But how?" Josh said. "There's only one door into that room."

"Kid, I don't think he's talking' about using the door," Sid said.

"Wait," said Charlie, "this doesn't make any sense. You're talking about getting into a room that has only one door, without going through the door? I could see maybe blasting your way in, but that doesn't seem very, um, stealthy."

"It is quite simple really," the teacher said. "One does not need to go through a door, when one may merely go around it."

"Around it?" Josh said. "But ... oh wait, I get it. You're talking about using one of those extra dimensions of yours to take Jenny back in."

"Precisely," said Mr. Symarian. "but more than two will be going." He smiled at Josh. "A path through the higher dimensions can be rather complex. We shall require a path finder."


At first Jenny wasn't sure what was going on. The door was in front of them, and then suddenly it was, somehow, off to the side. But in a funny way, like it was squashed sideways. She saw that Josh, a little ways ahead of them, had a look of intense concentration on his face. Then, to her horror, Josh's face became squashed too. Before she could shout or scream, she heard his voice, sounding shockingly normal.

"This way," he said, and she felt Mr. Symarian take her arm, and somehow turn. As she turned to follow their teacher's lead, Josh's face seemed to change back to its normal shape. At that moment, she realized just how much she liked Josh's face.

She realized she had been holding her breath. As Jenny took a deep breath, she was mildly surprised to find that the air seemed perfectly normal. Was there air in the fourth dimension, she wondered, or had they somehow taken it with them? In any case, she was very glad to find out that you could still breathe in the fourth dimension.

Very glad indeed.


As the years went by, Amelia found it harder and harder to remember how to act "normal" about time. Although she always knew when it would happen, she found it unpleasant when her husband would catch her staring off into space, and she would see that look of vague fear upon his face.

It was easier with the children. They seemed to understand the hidden world that everyone keeps inside, and how different it is from that world created by grownups, of days and weeks, of time diced into meaningless little calendar boxes. There was a point when she began to wonder whether growing up is a kind of forgetting, an erasing of the ability to see how time is a sculpture, a world of beautiful shapes carved forever into the fabric of the Universe.

Sometimes she wished they could see what she saw -- past and future twisting together, frozen moments stretching as far as the eye could see, like glistening stalactites in a beautifully wrought cave of ice. But there was no way to show anyone, nobody to tell who would have the slightest idea what she was talking about.

And so, as the years went by, she spent more time with the shadow, as she knew she would. Until one day, when the time came to make a choice.


Jenny was starting to get the hang of it. If you turned this way twice, it was the same as turning that way three times. There were patterns to moving in higher dimensions, even if it seemed crazy. She had the thought that it was a little like finding yourself in a strange new kind of Rubik's cube. You didn't really need to understand what each individual turn meant, as long as you learned the patterns.

Maybe, she thought, this is what magic incantations are all about. The reason an incantation doesn't seem to make any sense is that we can't see the space it works in -- because it's not the space we live in. An incantation is really a kind of map -- each line, when spoke aloud, turns something in just the right way, and by the time it's done, you're there.

She never would have believed in magic incantations, of course, if she hadn't seen them working with her own eyes. In a way it was reassuring to realize that magic is really just physics in a different world. In a way, she mused, it's so much more comforting to think that there really are rules about these things. She thought of something she'd read in a comic book once, a line she'd really liked. Except now she'd say it differently: "With great power comes the need for a great sense of direction."

She saw Josh and Mr. Symarian staring at her, and she realized she had said it aloud. But before she had time to be embarrassed, the teacher spoke up. "Yes, quite," he said. "I believe you have caught the essence of it. And I am pleased to say," he added, nodding toward Josh, "that our young friend here has an exceedingly fine sense of direction."

It was only in that moment that Jenny realized that they were back again in normal three dimensions. They were standing in a small room, empty but for a very lovely queen size bed. And on that bed, apparently fast asleep, was her grandmother Amelia.


Charlie and Sid were waiting nervously outside in the hall. Charlie was pacing up and down the hallway, and Sid was flying back and forth from wall to wall, looking very distraught.

"Do you think they'll be ok?" Charlie asked.

"How the hell would I know," Sid growled, "What am I, the answer demon?"

"Well, you don't need to snap at me," Charlie said.

"Sorry kid," Sid said. "I get upset, I get nervous. It's a thing with me. Don't take it personal."

"Yeah," Charlies said, "I guess we're all on edge. I mean, anything could happen now."

"Sheesh, you're tellin' me," Sid said. "people wandering around in too many dimensions, time tying itself into a pretzel. It's enough to make your horns drop off."

"Well," Charlie said, "you know, that isn't really so bad."

Sid stared for a moment. "Oh right, I forget, I'm talkin' to a guy who was one of those fake demons. Not that there's, you know, anything wrong with that," he added hastily. "I mean, no offense intended."

"None taken," Charlie said.


Jenny circled around the bed, looking at her grandmother lying there. Although it seemed impossible that this was her grandmother. She recognized the face from the old photos, but her grandmother Amelia should have been old. This was a woman in her twenties.

"What do you think we should do?" Josh asked, unconsciously speaking low, as if he were in church. "Should we wake her up?"

"Oh, I don't know," Jenny said despairingly. For some reason, she felt like crying. "After all this time, and everything we've been through, I really don't know how to reach her."

"It may be easier than you think," said Mr. Symarian. "One could say that you are practically staring the answer in the face."

"Right in the face?" Jenny said, rolling her eyes. "What is this, some kind of riddle?"

"Well, yes," said their teacher. "I believe it is."


"OK," Jenny said, "Let's take this slow. When you say 'riddle', what exactly do you mean?"

"Well," Mr. Symarian said, looking somewhat abashed, "Were I to tell you, in some explicit way, then it wouldn't be a riddle, would it?"

"Are you for real?" Josh said. "I mean, is there some kind of script we don't get to read or something?"

"No, nothing like that," the teacher said. "It's more of a quest sort of thing. One requires a certain purity, as it were, to pierce the veil of space-time. It wouldn't do to provide a cheat sheet."

"So you're saying," Jenny jumped in, "If I'm getting this, that if I want to get my grandmother back, I don't just need to solve the riddle, I need to figure out what the riddle is in the first place."

"Well, yes," Mr. Symarian said. "That is the essence of it."

"Damn," said Josh. "This is harsh. It's like when you're supposed to know that 'Lord of the Rings' is all about Sam versus Gollum, and the rest, Aragorn and whatever, is just noise. They don't tell you that going in."

"Right," Jenny said, warming to the theme. "Or that Harry, Hermione, Ron and all those other annoying kids are just window dressing, because Snape is really the only important character. The stuff that you don't figure out until maybe the third book."

"Exactly," Mr. Symarian said. "Or, to revisit the classics, that fact that the entire narrative arc of Buffy is merely background for the passion of Giles."

The two teenagers stared at him. "You're, um, joking, right?" Jenny said.

Mr. Symarian sniffed. "You children will understand when you are older."


"OK, I get it, we need to figure out what the riddle is before we can solve it." Jenny said. "But how do we figure out that the riddle is?"

"Mr. Symarian, can you help us out here?" Josh said.

"I'm terribly sorry," the teacher said, "but I cannot help you with this part of your journey."

"No disrespect Mr. Symarian, but that's kind of lame," Jenny said. "I mean, we came all this way."

"Yeah," Josh added. "To get this far I had to find us a path through the freakin' fourth dimension. And now you won't even help with a stupid riddle?"

"It is not that I will not, but that I cannot. The riddle is a pathway. Your grandmother Amelia was young when she created it, and as the creation of a young mind, the pathway can be traversed only by young minds. Were I to attempt to provide any assistance, the way forward would disappear forever.

"Well ok then," Josh said, taking a deep breath. "Jenny, I think we need to look around the room for clues."


"The problem," Jenny said, "is that the room is empty. Well, almost empty anyway. It's just got the stuff every room has."

"Yes, there's a bed," Josh said, "and of course the door, and a window and a clock over there on the wall." He went over to the window. "Strange though, you can't see anything when you look outside. It's all just black."

Jenny came over and stood next to him. "Yes, like it's always night."

"What did you say?" Josh said.

"It's a story my mom used to read me out of an old story book, when I was little. About a town where it was always night. I'd forgotten all about it until I saw this weird window. The book was written all in rhyme. I only remember one part clearly:

In the town of endless night, the darkness ran so deep
That even all the dogs and cats and clocks fell fast asleep
Everywhere was darkness, and every house the same
Sleeping people dreaming of a dawn that never came

"That's so sad," Josh said. "I'll bet your grandmother read that same book to your mother when she was little -- I think we can use that."

"Yes," Jenny nodded, "I think I was supposed to remember that."

"But that still doesn't tell us what we're supposed to do."

"Oh I think it does," Jenny said, "I think we need to make the dawn happen."


"Are we on the right track, Mr. Symarian?" Josh asked.

"I'm sorry," said the teacher. "But I really cannot comment. I'm afraid that any advice from me at this point would simply negate your fine efforts."

"Well," Josh replied with a grin, "at least now we know that our efforts are fine."

"Perhaps I have said too much already." Mr. Symarian said. "These things must be handled delicately, or you hurt the spell."

"Margaret Hamilton!" Jenny said.

"Pardon me?" the teacher said, "Why did you just say 'Margaret Hamilton'?"

"She played the Wicked Witch of the West in 'The Wizard of Oz'. You were quoting her." Jenny explained. "You mean to tell me, after all your talk about the 'classics', that you don't know who Margaret Hamilton was?"

"I am afraid my knowledge of Hamiltons runs more to Edith than to Margaret."

"I would've bet ten bucks you were going to say Alexander," Josh said.

"Sorry to disappoint," the teacher sniffed. "In any case, I cannot see how this is relevant to our current situation. I believe that it would be best for me to remain silent until you have solved the riddle."

"He didn't get that one either," Jenny said to Josh, grinning. "Maybe we really are better off doing this on our own."


"OK, let's take inventory," Josh said. "There are some things we know for sure, or at least for pretty sure. We know the riddle exists, and we know -- from that storybook -- that the solution probably has something to do with turning the darkness outside into light."

"Yes," Jenny added, "and we're also pretty sure that we'll find the clue we need somewhere here in this room."

"Right." Josh was looking around the room carefully. "It's a pretty boring room, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Jenny said. "But Mr. Symarian said -- before he stopped talking -- that we were staring the answer right in the face."

"Wait, say that again." Josh said.

"I just said that he told us we were staring the answer in the face." Jenny frowned. "I know, it seemed weird to me too. Rooms don't have faces, only people have faces. And there are no pictures here."

"People," said Josh with a smile, "are not the only things with faces, are they?"

Jenny looked at him, feeling a bit lost. Then all at once she got it.

They both shouted the answer at the same time. "The clock!"


Josh strode over to the little clock hanging on the wall. "Doesn't look like much, does it?" he said. "But I'm pretty sure it's been set to midnight for a long time now." With a decisive gesture, he reached out to move the minute hand.

"Well?" Jenny said.

"Darned thing's stuck," he answered. He glanced over at Mr. Symarian, who merely shrugged. It was clear the teacher was being very careful not to interfere.

"I wonder," Jenny said. "Maybe it's just stuck for you."

"I don't get it," Josh said.

"Well, after all, she's my grandmother, not yours." Jenny walked over to the clock and gave the second hand a little nudge with one finger. It moved easily.

"Well, I'll be darned," Josh said. "You totally called it."

"Well you know," Jenny said, feeling quite pleased with herself, "everybody does something. You're the path finder, and I, it seems, am the path changer."

"Totally," Josh said enthusiastically. "I tag 'em and you bag 'em."

"Yep," Jenny said, "you see 'em and I tree 'em."

"I pick 'em and you sic 'em."

Jenny laughed. "You spot 'em then I got 'em."

"I name them and you tame them."

"You smell 'em and I fell 'em."

"I bring 'em and you sting 'em..."

"Stop! I beg you, for God's sake, please stop!!"

Josh and Jenny both turned to look at the source of the interruption. "Why Mr. Symarian, you're shouting," Jenny said. "Are you ok?"

"Does it look like I'm bloody ok? If you keep this up any longer my head will explode."

"Sorry," Jenny said, "we were just, you know, having fun." Then she had a worrisome thought. "You don't mean that, um, literally, do you?"

"No Jenny, not literally. I was employing a metaphor." The teacher managed to get hold of himself. "Well, at least one thing is quite obvious."

"What's that," Josh asked.

Mr. Symarian looked from Josh to Jenny and then back again. "You two are perfect for each other."


It was time. Jenny walked up to the wall clock and began to move the minute hand forward. Slowly at first, and then faster and faster.

"Look," said Josh, gesturing toward the window.

Jenny turned to look at the window, without taking her finger away from the minute hand of the clock. She could see the first faint gleams of light coming in through the window. She continued turning, now with renewed purpose. The light outside gradually became brighter. She had an eerie feeling that she was moving time itself. And in a way, she thought to herself, that's exactly what was happening.

She glanced over at the bed, only to see her strangely young grandmother starting to shift, to toss and turn. It was like watching somebody having a bad dream. Or at least a very interesting dream.

"The sun is about to rise," Josh said, staring intently out the window.

Jenny realized that she had been continually turning the minute hand of the clock, without really thinking about it. She was surprised to see that the time on the clock was now nearly six in the morning. She had moved time forward by six hours!

As she moved the time past the six oclock mark, she looked over at the bed, to see her grandmother Amelia suddenly open her eyes. Jenny took her hand away from the clock. Somehow she knew that advancing time would no longer be necessary.

For a long time Jenny's grandmother just lay their, her eyes open, staring up at the ceiling. Then suddenly her head turned and she looked straight at Jenny. Jenny didn't know what would happen next, but she felt a shiver run through her, as though her blood was about to freeze.

And then her grandmother Amelia spoke. "So, it's you."


"You know who I am?" Jenny asked, surprised.

"Yes," Amelia said, "I know who you are." She looked into Jenny's face. "You have my eyes."

"It's true," Josh said.

"Quiet, Josh," Jenny said. "Girl time now."

"Come here," Amelia said, sitting up in the bed. "Let me look at you. You are so like me." Jenny could feel the intensity of her grandmother's gaze upon her face.

"Mom would never talk about you," Jenny said, wishing she could think of something better to say. "I ... I tried to get her to, but she wouldn't."

"No, of course she wouldn't. What could she say? She doesn't have the power -- it visits only every other generation. And always different."

"Your power is about time, isn't it?" Jenny said, "That's why he took you away."

"Oh Jenny, there is so much you don't understand. I was very angry at you, you know. At first we ... I ... thought you wouldn't get this far." She looked over at Mr. Symarian. "But once you brought the ... once you brought him ..."

"Hello, Amelia," the teacher said quietly. "It has been a very long time, hasn't it?"

"Yes, ages," Amelia said, and suddenly she laughed.


"You and Mr. Symarian know each other?" Jenny asked incredulously.

"Something like that," Amelia said.

"You could say we have a history," their teacher added.

Amelia gave him a long look. "Interesting choice of word -- 'history'. I see you haven't lost that dry sense of humor."

"I don't get it," Josh said.

"Me neither," Jenny added.

"It's rather a long story, I'm afraid, and somewhat beside the point, in the current circumstance. Wouldn't you agree Amelia?"

"Yes," she said, and smiled. "Jenny, I believe we have things to discuss. Although I hope you don't mind, I've summoned my little dog. He's on his way now."

"Bruno?" Josh said, turning white. "You're going to bring that thing in here, with us?"

"Yes, of course you would have met him. He can be rather a terror at times, but I'm sure he'll behave himself in front of company."

Just then there was a high pitched yelp. "Bruno, you little rascal! Come up on the bed and say hello." Amelia laughed as a little dog jumped up onto the bed and began licking her face with enthusiasm. When he was quite done, he perched himself comfortably in her lap, and regarded the three travelers amiably.

"That's Bruno?" Jenny asked.

"I remember him as being, um, bigger." Josh added.

"Yes, I can see how you would. When I am asleep, he can become quite the protective beast."


"So now what?" Josh asked.

"Now," said Amelia, "your girlfriend and I need to talk."

"She's not my...," Josh began, turning red. "I mean, don't get me wrong. She's not not my girlfriend. It's just that, well, um, it's complicated," he finished weakly.

"How do you think he did?" Amelia asked Jenny.

"I think he did splendidly, under the circumstances," Jenny said, giving an approving smile to a now very confused looking Josh.

"Yes, quite," Amelia said. "Josh, you're doing fine. But like I said, Jenny and I need to talk. Here, take the dog." And without further ado she got up off the bed and placed Bruno into Josh's arms.

"I don't think this is a good idea," Josh protested. "I mean, I don't think he likes me." Bruno, meanwhile, looked very comfortable. The moment he was in Josh's arms, he gave a very impressive yawn, tucked his muzzle into Josh's left elbow, and closed his eyes.

"Oh look, he's gone to sleep," Jenny said. "He could start dreaming any moment. Is that going to be a problem?"

"Oh no, not at all," Amelia said amiably, "It's only a problem if I'm asleep. Josh," she said, looking at Bruno nestled in Josh's arms, "I think he really likes you."

Jenny giggled. "I guess we can talk now."

"Yes," Amelia said, sitting back down on the bed. "Sit here next to me. You and I have a lot to talk about."


"Where to begin?" Amelia said. "The difficult thing about being in forward time is having to lay everything out in a line."

"Did you say 'forward time'?" Jenny asked.

"Well, to you it would just be 'time'. I've gotten used to the other way -- the way of seeing things all at once, the before and the after. I'm a little out of practice at feeding information through a straw."

"That's ok," Jenny said. "You can talk about stuff to me in any order. I'll put the pieces together."

"That's very sweet of you," Amelia smiled. "Well then, perhaps it would be best to start near the end. We are sitting here on this bed, and we are having a very pleasant conversation. So far so good?"

"Um, yes," Jenny said hesitantly. "That's what we're doing. I already know that."

"Yes, of course you do. But the next part -- the part that comes right after that -- is more interesting."

"And what's that?" Jenny asked.

"The part," said Amelia, "where I tell you that you need to leave now, and not see me again."

"Oh," said Jenny. "I wasn't expecting that."

"Yes my dear, that's the point. The part you know leads to the part you don't know. But it's the part after that which is even more interesting."

"And what's that?" Jenny said.

"The part where if you don't go away after I tell you to, then you and your friends might not exist any more. And then I shall be very sad."


"Time," said Amelia, "is not a line. Do you understand that?"

"I hear what you're saying," Jenny said, "but I guess you've realized that it's kind of hard for me to go there. I mean, I live it as a line. Even after that session with your, um, friend." She shuddered as she thought about that.

"Yes, I'm sorry about that. I tried to tell him that wouldn't work. He doesn't really know our ways. I'm different, because he spent years carefully working with me, getting me to see. You had to face it all at once."

"Wait," Jenny said, "How come he didn't see that it wouldn't work? I thought you guys already know the future."

"We do know the future, up to the part when you come. We've been expecting you, but we didn't know what you would be like. It's like there's a wall in this part of time. In fact, that's what he and I always call it -- 'the wall'. We can't see anything beyond that wall."

"You mean I stop you from seeing the future?" Jenny asked, astonished.

"Not just you -- all of you," Amelia said, gesturing to Josh and Mr. Symarian. "And your friends outside too. But we think it's mostly you. Because of the connection between you and me. Somehow, you change things."

"Wow," Jenny said. "I had no idea. I was just trying to find my grandmother. I hope you don't hate me."

"I did indeed so want to hate you. I was fully expecting to. You may have guessed that from the nature of your encounters with Bruno along the way here." Amelia and Jenny both looked over at the little dog, who was still sleeping peacefully in Josh's arms. Then Amelia turned back to Jenny, giving her a long searching look. "Although I must confess -- now that I've met you, I rather like you."

"Thank you," Jenny said. "I rather like you too."


"The problem is," continued Amelia, "that I am not exactly who you think I am."

"I know you're my grandmother," Jenny said, "I've seen the pictures, and they look exactly like you."

"Yes, I'm afraid that's the problem. Those are very old pictures, and they look exactly like me. I am the same age I was when those pictures were taken, all those years ago."

"Why does that make a difference?"

"Because it means the version of me that exists is the one that has existed outside of time for all these years. I am a young woman who stepped outside of time many years ago. And that's where I've been until here."

"Until here?" Jenny was confused.

"Sorry, I suppose I should have said until now." Amelia smiled apologetically. "I think of it as `here', but to you it makes more sense as `now'."

"Right," Jenny said, nodding slowly. "Amazingly enough, I actually understood that. But why couldn't you come back into time?"

"Even if I wanted to, I'd need to come back into the place I left. That's where the door is."

"But you are here talking with me now!" Jenny said.

"We are not exactly `in time' at the moment," Amelia explained. "This is a sort of neutral place. It exists only so that you and I can meet and have this conversation."

"You mean it's not now, now?" Jenny asked.

Amelia thought for a moment. "Something like that. I'm not sure English has any way of expressing it." She turned to Mr. Symarian. "What do you think?"

"Considering what you've thought of my opinion in the past, I am surprised you think my opinion matters."

"In the past?" Josh spoke up for the first time. "Mr. Symarian, just how old are you?"

"Now now," Amelia said, "that is never an appropriate question."

"Yes Josh," Jenny said with a smile, "Now now."


"I think I see what's going on here," Josh said. "From our perspective, you are still at the moment of time when you left our world."

"Yes," said Amelia, "I guess from your point of view the situation would look more or less like that."

"Then why is it you can interact with us, all of these years later?"

"That's a very good question. In a way, I suppose it's analogous to talking on a telephone. You can use a phone to have a conversation with someone, even a very rich conversation, but that doesn't mean you are actually in the same room."

"So this conversation, you and I sitting on this bed. We're actually talking to each other on the telephone?" Jenny asked.

Amelia laughed. "I said it was analogous. But in a way, yes. If you take an extremely broad view of the concept of a telephone."

Josh looked troubled. "And if you exited back into our world through the same door you came in? That would be bad, wouldn't it."

"Maybe not for me," Amelia said, "but it's not me I'm worried about."


"If I understand this right," Josh said, "if you go back into our world, then from that moment onward the world changes. That's the deal, right?"

"Yes, that's it exactly," Amelia said. "One cannot change the past, but for me it is not the past -- it is the present. Or at least the very last `present' that I experienced directly."

"And if you come back all those years ago," Josh continued, "then we won't exist?"

"Oh, I suspect you will exist, although your life will probably be altered. And Mr. Symarian here," she nodded in the direction of their teacher, "will certainly exist. But he doesn't really count. He is rather outside of such things as time and space."

"Oh," Jenny said, "you mean..."

"Yes, I'm afraid that you, my dear, are the issue," Amelia said, "I am sorry to say that your very existence hangs in the balance. After all, your birth was the result of a very particular series of events, as all births are. Remove even one brick and the entire building comes down."

"And I would think," Jenny said thoughtfully, "that in this case we'd be talking about more than one brick."

"Yes," Amelia said ruefully, "in this case we'd be talking about an entire wall."


Jenny thought a moment. "Clearly I shouldn't do something that would delete my own existence. Especially because it's not even clear that you would be happier if I did. So if I'm not here on a mission to save my grandmother from some dire fate, then just what am I doing here?"

"That's a very good question," Amelia said. "And I have a very good answer: This was the only way you and I could meet."

"Why did you two need to meet?" Josh asked.

"I think I can answer that," Mr. Symarian interjected. "After all, I'm the one who arranged it."

"You?" Jenny said. "But why?"

"Your grandmother and I had an argument some years back," the teacher continued. "I'm afraid it was a rather strong argument. As a result, the relationship between us was severed."

"Relationship?" Jenny said.

"In a manner of speaking. But we needn't dwell on that point." He cleared his throat hastily. "I warned Amelia that the freedom she believed she was embracing might actually turn out to be a prison."

"But I misunderstood our dear friend's intentions." Amelia said. "I thought he was speaking from jealousy. It turns out his warning had nothing to do with jealousy."

"Well," Mr. Symarian smiled, "perhaps a little, but that is rather beside the point. You see, there was an impediment to Amelia and her shadowy friend achieving the happiness they sought."

"And what was that impediment?" Jenny asked.

"Why Jenny," he said, "the impediment was you."


"Me?" Jenny wasn't sure she had heard right. "But I hadn't even been born yet."

"You are still thinking in temporal terms," Mr. Symarian explained. "It does not matter when you came into the world, but rather the power that you brought into the world with you when you arrived."

"Power?" Jenny was still confused.

"He is making rather a muddle of explaining things, isn't he?" Amelia laughed. "You and I share certain, shall we say, abilities, which appear to be handed down from mother to daughter, always showing up in the second generation. Like me, you have the power to interact with time in quite unorthodox ways. It is this, the power that we share, that brought me to the attention of my dear shadow, and it is this same power that has allowed you to journey here."

Josh had been idly scratching behind Bruno's contented ears, but now he spoke up "You knew Jenny was going to come here from the moment she was born?"

"Why yes, of course I knew. When a light is turned on, its rays are cast everywhere. I was glad to at last have a kindred spirit -- someone from the world of my childhood who might understand. Yet Jenny's birth also created a change here. This place became closed in, confined, bounded by the impossibility of seeing beyond this moment -- the moment we are sharing now."

"I'm very sorry about that," Jenny said.

"Oh, there is really nothing to worry about now -- now that you understand what you needed to understand. Here, take my hand."

Amelia held out her hand. Without quite understanding why, Jenny knew that this was an important moment. Slowly, solemnly, she reached out to clasp her grandmother's lovely young hand in her own.


The moment their fingers touched, Jenny felt a surge of something -- like electricity, but not quite -- flow between her and her grandmother. The room started to fade away. She tried to look over at Josh, but it was as though she was seeing him from a great distance. The little dog he was cradling in his arms was somehow, impossibly, huge. Her mind could not make any sense of it.

She turned to find Mr. Symarian. But where their teacher had been, she now saw something -- something unspeakable. It was as though her brain could not reconcile the unearthly shape that stood before her. She could feel her mind trying to match it to something, anything, from her experience, and failing utterly.

Jenny quickly looked away, and attempted to turn her gaze back toward her grandmother, but the directions were all wrong. She was somehow staring downward, into a long dark spiraling tunnel. She felt herself start to tumble forward, and then she was falling. Somewhere in the back of her mind she realized she was screaming.

The last thought she had, before losing consciousness, was about how odd it was that her scream didn't seem to make any sound. No, she decided, just before everything went black, not any sound at all.



The house had been in their family for about two hundred years, and had somehow managed to pass from mother to daughter. So great was the pull of the old place that successive generations of husbands always ended up moving in.

Jenny had always heard stories about her grandmother's secret jewelry box, the one that was supposed to be lost somewhere in the attic, and how grandma, when she was a girl, had found it there one day, left by her grandmother. Mom used to tell the story with a wistful look, as though talking about some long lost childhood friend. But it was one of those stories you don't really think is true. Grandma had died when Jenny's mom was just a girl, so there was no way to check, and Jenny was rather practical minded about these things.

So she was a little taken aback when she actually came upon the little jewelry box while rummaging around in the attic one day. The inlaid figurine of a ballerina on the top surface was exactly as her mom had always described it, and she knew at once that it was the real thing, with a certainty that she couldn't really explain.

There didn't seem to be a key to open it, or a keyhole either for that matter. After a few minutes of fiddling around trying to find a secret door or something, she was about to give up in frustration, when on a sudden whim she pressed down on the little figure of the ballerina. With a click the box sprang open.

The inside of the box was lined with a thick cushion of red velvet. It smelled slightly musty, as though the box had been closed for a very long time, which she supposed it must have been. Other than that the box appeared to be empty, except for a single old-fashioned skeleton key, golden in color, nestled within a matching depression in the velvet cushion.

Jenny picked up the key, and that's when it happened...


In school the next day, Jenny was sitting in her seat, waiting for class to start. She was looking at the key, turning it over in her hand, when Josh came up..

"You look distracted," he said, sliding into the seat next to hers.

"Hi Josh," Jenny said, "no, not distracted. Not exactly." she was silent for a moment, staring at the key. "Do you ever think about the future?"

Josh laughed. "I've got enough trouble thinking about the present. The future's going to happen anyway, whatever I do. It doesn't need me to think about it."

"Yes," Jenny said seriously, "but which future?"

"Is it just me," Josh said, "or is this conversation starting to get weird? Nice key, by the way."

"Thanks," Jenny said. Then she looked up toward the door. "Teacher's coming."

"The teacher never comes this early," Josh began. But just then the door swung open and their new teacher walked in. "Hey," Josh said, "how did you..."

"Morning kids," the new teacher said, walking briskly to the desk in the front of the room. "Mr. Symarian ain't comin' in for a while. I'm gonna cover your English class. Nice to be here."

Jenny smiled at Josh. "Right on time."

Their substitute teacher was surprisingly short and completely bald, with a compact body and round head. When he reached the teacher's desk, he turned to face the class. "You can call me Sid."


Josh and Jenny were sitting in the school cafeteria. "That teacher yesterday was weird, wasn't he?" Josh said.

"Oh I don't know," Jenny replied. "Sid's ok."

"What, are you two on a first name basis now?"

"Josh, he called himself Sid. I'm just using the same name he used." As she spoke, Jenny was absently fingering the golden key, which she now wore on a string around her neck.

"OK, you don't need to be touchy about it," Josh said, trying to change the subject, "I guess you must really like that key."

Jenny held the golden key up and looked at it for a long while. Then she looked up at Josh. "I had a dream last night," she said quietly.

"About the key?"

"No," she shook her head. "about my grandmother Amelia."


"Wow, that's strange -- a dream about your grandmother Amelia, the one you never met. I remember you once told me she died when your mom was a girl."

Jenny looked at Josh a while before answering. "I wouldn't exactly say we never met. After all, I had a perfectly lovely conversation with her last night. In my dream, I mean."

"Yeah, but that doesn't really count, does it? I mean, there's a difference between dreams and reality."

"That's your theory," Jenny said. "Suppose you found out something in a dream, and then, after that, it happened in 'reality'. Would you still think there was such a big difference?"

"Coincidences happen," Josh shrugged. "Doesn't mean you've got to rearrange your whole view of the universe."

"Well, what if, um, I said to you 'You're going to meet some guy named Charlie', and then you met some guy named Charlie? Would that be just a coincidence?"

Josh shook his head. "Now you're just reaching. I mean, stuff like that doesn't really..."

"Hi, I'm Charlie. I'm new at school. Mind if I sit here?" The body stood politely, waiting to be asked to join them.

Josh looked up in open mouthed astonishment. Unable to get any words out, he merely nodded. When he was finally able to talk, he said "How did you..."

"Like I told you Josh," Jenny said, "I had a nice conversation last night with my grandmother. Our new friend is very handsome, isn't he?"

Josh looked at Charlie, but this time really looked at him. Charlie was indeed handsome, but the word 'handsome' didn't even begin to describe it. It was like he had a kind of golden glow about him. In a way, Josh thought, it's unfair, people like that walking around. How do you compete? With a feeling of furtive panic, he looked over at Jenny.

But Jenny was looking at Josh, not at Charlie. "Don't worry, he's going to be a friend. A very good friend. Isn't that right Charlie?"

"Yep," Charlie said. "Nothing to worry about. Did you tell him yet?"

"Tell me what?" Josh asked.


It was not a conversation in any sense one would recognize. There was no notion of time passing from the past to the future, no taking of turns, no back and forth. Rather, it was more like a tide that washed over all at once, a set of concepts formed into a sculptural whole, outside of any human conception of time. Although if one were to try to reconstruct it as a conversation, something like this might be the result:

"She has reentered the world, my love. It was all you could have wished for."

"Yes, Amelia, the wall is gone, and now we are free. The future is open to us."

"Oh, my shadow, my lovely shadow. You did not believe in young Jenny, did you?"

"The way of your kind is indeed strange to me. But I see much in her that reminds me of you. She is strong, this young one. Much lies ahead for her, as you know."

"Yes, of course. But what will she remember of the journey? The others have already forgotten, for in their concept of time it never really happened."

"But Amelia my love, your Jenny, as you know, has your gift. She can go beyond time, should she learn to use the power."

"Yes, my darling shadow, that is why I continue to visit her in dreams. It is the way to teach her."

"Is that the only reason?"

"Oh no, of course not. It is also that she and I have such lovely conversations."


Jenny looked from Charlie to Josh, and back again. "Do you think he's ready to hear it?"

"He'll never be more ready," Charlie said. "Besides, you already know you're going to tell him."

At that Jenny and Charlie both laughed. "Right," Jenny said, "I do already know that, don't I? Among other things."

Josh was turning red. "What's going on here? Are you two, like, dating?"

"Oh no," Jenny said, trying to stifle a giggle. "I could never date Charlie. He's too, um, ... old for me."

"I'm older than I look," Charlie added helpfully.

"The thing I wanted to tell you," Jenny continued, before Josh had a chance to interrupt, "is about time."

"Go on," Josh said, trying not to sound as lost as he felt.

"In my family there is a gift, you could say it's like a kind of talent. It gets passed down from mother to daughter, but it skips a generation."

"OK, I get it. Your grandmother Amelia had it, whatever it is. And now you've got it. Is it about talking in dreams?"

"That's part of it," Jenny said thoughtfully, "but not the important part. I talk to my grandmother because she gets lonely sometimes. And besides, it's really the only way she can teach me."

"You're talking about her as if she were alive," Josh said. He looked from Jenny to Charlie suspiciously. "Wait a minute, is this some kind of practical joke?"

"No, no joke," Jenny shook her head. "My grandmother isn't either alive or dead. It's complicated, but I'll explain."

"Well, it's about time!" Josh said in exasperation.

Jenny smiled happily. "Yes, exactly!"


Josh looked at Jenny blankly. "What do you mean, 'exactly', exactly?"

"You said 'it's about time'" Jenny explained, "And yes, it's exactly about time."

"Why do I feel like I'm in an old comedy sketch here?" Josh said, "Oh, wait. You mean what we're talking about. Time is what we're talking about."

"Yes, time" Jenny said, "and I must say this conversation just went through a lot of it. Anyway, I learned from my grandmother Amelia that time isn't a line. It's more like a sculpture in a room. You can walk around and look at it any way you please."

Suddenly Josh's eyes went wide. "You're talking about seeing into the future, aren't you?"

"Yes, and the past and the present, all of it." Jenny shrugged. "It doesn't make any difference."

Josh looked at Charlie. "And I suppose you can see into the future too."

"I wish," Charlie said, "Unfortunately I'm stuck in the line view just like you. It's only Jenny here who can step out of it. And then only since she got to know her grandmother."

"You mean her dead grandmother?" Josh asked.

"I mean her neither alive nor dead grandmother. You should probably listen to what she's saying."

"It doesn't matter," Jenny told Charlie, "I can just as well show him. I can give people glimpses now and then. That'll do it."

"Glimpses?" Josh said. "You mean, into the future? How does that work?"

"Like this," Jenny said. And then she leaned forward and kissed him. It was a long, slow, passionate kiss, and Josh quickly went from startled to very attentive. As she kissed him, he saw the years ahead, all at once, like looking through a telescope. He saw that this was only the first of many kisses to come, and he saw many other things besides.

When at last the kiss was done, it took Josh a moment to stir from his dreamy reverie. He looked into Jenny's eyes, and saw that she was looking back into his. After a long pause, he said, "It looks like the future is going to be really great."

"Yes," she said, "and the best part is that we get to share it."

"I saw that," Josh said. Then he took her hand. "Just one thing, Jenny."

"Yes Josh?"

"The next time you talk to your grandmother, wherever -- or whenever -- she is, tell her I said hello."


The End