Well, friends, here we are, the end of my novel Lost in Silver. If you’ve been reading along, I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and if you’re one of the folks who decided to wait until it was over, after the whole Summer Love debacle… well, now’s the time. This chapter completes what I sincerely hope will be the first adventure of Linda Watson and her friends, and although I tried not to be too liberal with the story seeds for future adventures, I couldn’t resist popping in one or two.
And if you’ve got no idea what I’m talking about, you should probably start reading from the beginning. Go back to Chapter One, and you can just follow the link at the end of each chapter to the next one. How’s that for convenience?
Thanks for reading, friends, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’ll be starting a new fiction project soon, although it will be a bit different in form. Stay tuned, stick around, and have a Happy Labor Day.
The people of Nogard began to creep out of the forest a few at a time, waiting for the dragons to pass first. Following behind them, the news of what had happened slowly rolled through the land.
–driven out by some children.
We can go home.
By the time Elmer’s invisibility potion wore off, restoring Kevin and Emily, people were filing across the drawbridge, reuniting with fathers and brothers that Baliwick had under his control. Gene took Kevin down to the dungeon to release the prisoners, while Emily found her father, a broad smile nearly splitting his face in half.
“Ye bested me handily on the road there, Emily,” Eric said, hugging her. “I’ve never been prouder of ye.”
“I’m sorry I had to do it, father,” she said. “Ye weren’t quite listening to reason at the time.”
“Not that he ever did,” said Elmer, coming through with the mass of people over the drawbridge. “Welcome back, son.”
“Elmer,” Linda said. “I want to have a little talk with you.”
“Oh, no doubt, my dear. I look forward to it. But let’s enjoy the moment, eh?”
“Woo-hoo! Let’s party!” Kevin announced proudly as he and Gene led the way out of the dungeons. People in rags, unshaven, burnt, branded and scarred, came out into the sun and embraced their family and friends. As they took up a cheer, Kevin began crying, “Bring out the Ewoks! Come on, where’s the music? Isn’t there supposed to be some big celebration here?”
“Kevin?” Linda shouted. She was seeing him for the first time since they escaped the Macana, the invisibility potion gone. He wasn’t the same devastated boy they’d left behind. His leg was wrapped up with some sort of gauze, and his clothes were muddy and torn in several places. The ripped sleeve from the Macana vacuum-suit was tied across his chest like a sash, and there were several pouches dangling from his belt, some with stones, some with nuts, some with objects Linda couldn’t even guess at. A slingshot poking out of his pocket made him look like a child from an old comic strip, and his hair was mussed and unkempt. He appeared perfectly at home.
“Ah, Wildchild!” Elmer said, clapping Kevin on the shoulders. “I knew ye’d do well, lad.”
“T’weren’t nothin’,” Kevin said in mock humility. “Hey, Linda, what do we do with the overgrown Smurfs?”
Linda, Elmer and his family followed Kevin to the stable, where the two Macana soldiers were tied up. Lareil glared at them with cold fury to rival Baliwick’s, while Llaeli looked like he just wanted to leave.
“Should we throw these guys into the dungeon?” Kevin asked.
“I don’t know if that would be for the best,” Linda said. “If they could find us, so could Lallura, along with any other goons she has ready. I’ve got a better idea.”
She walked over to Lareil and nudged him in the ribs with her sneaker. “Well look what we have here. Boy, you seemed much tougher when you were trying to butcher helpless kids.”
“Let me go, girl, and I’ll–”
“You’ll what? Get beaten up by a bunch of children again? You’ve got nothing left and you know it, Lareil. Here’s what you’re going to do – we’re going to let you go and you’re going to go back and tell Lallura that it’s no good trying to expand your grip out into Evertime. Because no matter where you go or who you attack, we’ll be there – us or people like us – and we’ll kick your collective butts back to Mitimae.”
“Fine, fine!” Llaeli shouted in exasperation. “Just let us begone.”
Linda untied the Macana then pointed to a pair of the guards, holding two of the more impressive-looking swords in the palace. “You two. Go with these bozos and make sure they find their way back to the Evertime pool.”
“Yes, miss,” one of the guards said. If either of them were less than inclined to take orders from a young girl, neither of them showed it. In fact, they seemed honored to be chosen. Why not? If there was one thing that was constant, Linda thought, it was that everyone else seemed to know more about what was going on than she did.
* * *
Although all five of them were anxious to go home, Benny moreso than anyone, Emily and Elmer convinced them to stay the night, rest, and set out in the morning. Gail and Gene deserved to see how Nogard hospitality worked outside of the dungeon, Elmer insisted. There was no livestock left in the palace, so any feast they had would be limited to a vegetarian menu, but nobody complained.
Some of the men did find casks of beer remaining in the stores. They offered some to the children when the oats and vegetables began to flow. Kevin and Gene each braved a mug. Linda stopped Benny – she and Gail both abstained.
As everyone ate and made merry, Linda kept her eyes on Elmer, as if waiting for a signal for him. He gave it as she ate her third ear of roasted corn. A soft gesture for her to approach him, then he got up and walked away to one of the empty stables. She followed him, leaving Kevin behind to chat with Eric and watch Emily dance with an older teenage boy, with a sparkle in his eye and stubble on his chin.
“Who’s that, her boyfriend?” he whispered to Eric.
“Are they… um… ‘courting’?”
“Lad, ye make no sense sometimes. That there’s her brother, Linus. He was in the dungeon.”
“Her brother?” he said, his face lighting up.
“Hmph,” said Gail.
* * *
In the stable, Elmer had a seat. “Seems ye’re ready for our conversation, eh Linda?”
“Yeah, I am.”
There was a long silence.
“Well?” he said.
“You want me to start?”
“Makes more sense. I already know everything, after all. Ye’re the one who has to tell me what ye want to know.”
“What was that potion you gave me?”
“Me own special blend,” he said, laughing. “Ye wouldn’t believe how long it took me to get the spices just right.”
“I mean what did it do to me?”
“Ah, a much better question. It gave ye The Sight, to begin with. I assume ye figured out how that works by now.”
“It took a bit of trial and error, but yes.”
“And it made ye a bit stronger, a bit faster, a bit more resilient. Basically, it made ye do everything ye already did, but better.”
“Is that all?”
Elmer smiled. “For now, aye.”
“Well… it’s also given you ever so much potential, my dear.”
“Why me, then? Why not Gail or Gene? Or your own granddaughter – why did I deserve your little ‘gift’? Which almost got me killed, by the way.”
“Because, dear, I knew it was time to pass it to someone, and I knew ye would be the only one who could handle it.”
“You’re not answering my question. Why me?”
“Because, Linda, you’ve been marked. You’ve got the Halo.”
She shuddered. “The what?”
“Now I know you’ve seen it, dear. Oh. it’s not actually anything religious, of course, it’s that little golden haze ye can see around certain people. Ye saw it on Edward, didn’t ye?”
She thought back to the first time she looked at Edward, through her Third Eye – the glowing brilliant white of his body, topped with a field of gold around his heart and mind. “Yes, I saw it,” she said. ‘I thought it looked like a lion’s mane.”
Elmer laughed. At first she thought it was because he didn’t know what a lion was, but instead he guffawed and said, “Yes, yes! Ah, ye are a perceptive one, aren’t ye, girl?”
“You’re telling me that I’ve got one of those… ‘Halos’ too?”
“Aye, ye do. Don’t bother trying to see it in a reflection though, me girl. It doesn’t work that way. Just take my word for it.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a mark, that’s all. It marks certain people – Edward. Ye. Myself. We’re a breed apart, young Linda. We’re something special.”
“Something ‘special’? Is that anything like ‘one of us’?”
“Never mind. You probably wouldn’t answer me even if I did know how to explain it.”
“That’s one of the benefits of age, lass. Ye get to pick and choose which questions to answer.” He stood up with an old man grunt and began to shuffle for the door.
“What, where are you going? I’ve still got so many questions!”
“I know ye do, dear, but I’m afraid I’ve given ye all the answers I can for now.”
“But not all the answers you know, right?”
“Ye are a smart one, Linda. That’s why I’m confident that, in the end, ye’ll do exactly what ye are meant to do.”
“Find out for yourself.”
* * *
As they left the next morning – Wednesday morning, but Linda’s reckoning, only Emily and Eric joined them. They waved their farewells to the rest of the people of Nogard and made their way down the Yellow Brick Road to the Evertime pool.
“What are you going to do about this road?” Kevin said, kicking at the peeling paint on the cobblestones.
“I don’t know,” Elmer said. “Between the weather and the feet of travelers, this ugly shade should be worn away soon enough.”
“Aww…” Benny said. Once he had his head back about him, the road was the only thing about the whole experience he really liked.
“You do know what we’re going to tell Mom and Dad when we get home, right?” Linda asked him.
“A guy grabbed me at the baseball field and dragged me into the woods. He put a bag over my head and I didn’t see anything until you guys found me.”
“That’s right,” Linda said. She hated lying to her parents, especially about something like this, but telling them the truth would mark them all as lunatics. It was Gail who crafted their cover story, actually. They would tell them that a man in a black coat kidnapped Benny as the children played soccer – the other kids who were there that day would certainly have told them that much by now. Their story would be that the other three followed him to a pickup truck and managed to hide in the back until he stopped somewhere and they got Benny out somewhere in the northern part of the state. They would claim they hid for a few days, fearful that he was still looking for them, and when they were certain it was safe they stole a ride back in another truck. It wasn’t a flawless story, but it wasn’t bad. Linda didn’t at all like the idea of tying up police looking for a kidnapper they’d never find, but it was better than the alternative. Evertime, she knew, was something that needed to be guarded. Something so magical, and so potentially dangerous, should never become public knowledge.
“Here we are,” Linda said as they approached the pool. They each hugged Emily and clasped Elmer’s hand – Linda staring at him curiously the whole time – and made ready to leave.
“Goodbye, friends,” Emily said. “Come back some time – see what this place is like when we aren’t under occupation.”
“You bet,” Kevin said. “Any time we’re on the planet, you’d better believe we’ll be dropping by.”
“Hey, look!” Gene said. He pointed to the branches of a nearby baumer tree, where a beautiful yellow bird, a bit like a canary, was furiously working to build a nest. When Gene called attention to it, the bird looked down and sang a brief, sweet song, almost like it were singing just for him, before returning to her task.
“The animals are coming back,” Gene said.
“Aye,” Elmer said. “The last marks of Baliwick’s stay will be gone soon. Ye’d be welcome back here for that alone, if nothing else.’
The five children joined hands – Gene to Gail to Benny to Linda to Kevin – and stepped up to the edge of the Evertime pool.
“Hey, how do we know those dragons are gone?” Benny asked, his palms sweating. “I thought they couldn’t go in water.”
“Evertime water isn’t like regular water, B,” Linda said. “If it was, he could never have gotten to us in the first place. Don’t worry, they’re long gone.” She looked down the row. “Everyone ready? Okay then, on three…”
They jumped in and came out a few moments later in the still quiet of Evertime. The empty, motionless sky and the perfect silver of the water had not changed at all, but everything was different somehow. It was the same way climbing into the family minivan was different when it was time to come home from a long trip – you didn’t climb in the same way you did when the trip was beginning.
“All right,” Kevin said. “Anyone remember where we parked?”
“I’ve got the directions Murphy gave me,” Gail said, “but those were directions from the Infinity Bar and Grille.”
“And we remember how to get back there,” Gene said. “We’ll just have to go there and then take Gail’s directions back to Earth.”
“We’re going to a bar?” Benny said.
“No, B, we… hey, why not? You guys feel like making a stop? I’ve got something I want to talk to our old pal Murphy about.”
* * *
Although it was morning by Linda’s internal clock, the Infinity Bar and Grille was as crowded as ever. She got the impression it was always that way. Murphy smiled when he saw the children come in, the wrinkles folding oddly around the little t-shaped scar next to his eye. “Well, well! Little Linda Watson! Looks like you found everything you were looking for, eh?”
“Yeah, I guess we did,” Linda said, striding up to the bar. The other children stayed behind her, Benny clinging to Gail, unsure about some of the strange characters in the bar. A small group of people with green, lizard-like faces particularly unnerved him, but Gail assured him they were probably no relation to Baliwick.
“We’re about to head home now, but I wanted to make a quick stop here first. Say hello.”
“Aw, Linda, you flatter me.”
“I’m sure,” she said. “You knew everything that would happen to us in Nogard, didn’t you?”
Murphy laughed. “Linda, Linda, Linda. You know the rules. I couldn’t answer that question unless you did me a favor, and I’m afraid I just don’t have anything for you right now.”
“That’s okay. I didn’t really expect you to answer anyway.” She looked around the bar. “I was hoping to talk to Nancy. She’s not here, is she?”
“I don’t see her anywhere, do you?”
“I guess not.” She took the waterlogged watch off her wrist and handed it to Murphy. “Tell her I said thanks, but the next time I come here I’ll try to have a waterproof watch with me.”
“You got it, kid. Come on back sometime. I think you’d be fun to have around.”
“I’ll bet you do. Come on, guys. Ready to go?”
“Aw, I was just about to challenge that guy in the red cloak to a spell casting contest,” Kevin griped.
“Let it go, son,” Murphy said. “He’d wipe the floor with you.”
The five children left the bar and Murphy laughed. He waved to one of the adjoining rooms and a stern-looking blonde woman in a long coat came left a table with four similarly-dressed people. She walked over to him. “That was Linda, wasn’t it? She and the others did okay.”
“They did better than okay, Nance. Here, she wanted you to have your watch back.”
Nancy took it and smiled. It wouldn’t work again. Why would she want her to have it back? She turned the watch over in her hand and gasped. There was a message scratched into the back of the band. “Edward is okay,” it said. “He’ll find you when it’s safe.”
“Somethin’ wrong, Nance?” Murphy said. “You look like you saw a ghost, and I’ve got all of them in room seven tonight.”
“Who is that girl?” Nancy said. “Why did you want me to bring her here in the first place?”
“Aw, Nancy, you already used up your question for that favor. Sorry.”
* * *
Denise Watson was perched on the edge of her couch at 11:45 that Wednesday morning. Her oldest daughter, Jamie, was home from school and holding on to her, letting her cry, her own face impassive as if she were trying to keep her mother propped up. Jerry Watson was out of the house with his little brother, Marty, doing what they had done every day for five days now – putting up missing children posters on every telephone pole and bulletin board they could find, speaking to the police, dealing with the press when necessary. A missing child was increasingly big news these days. Five missing children from one park was enough to make the national news. NBC, CBS and Fox News had been camping out in Timberton for days now, and most of the other major outlets were in and out. Jerry had done several press conferences with the parents of the other missing children, pleading for their safe return, but Denise had stayed away from the camera. She wouldn’t have been able to deal with it.
“You want some tea, Mom?” Jamie asked. It was a small gesture, but seemed to be the only thing Denise would respond to these days.
“No, sweetie,” she said. Her eyes were red and puffy, and she was sitting next to a mound of used tissues that only got bigger and bigger as days went by and there was no news of her missing babies. Jerry or Marty kept trying to clean it up, but the mound always came back even bigger. The police tore the forest apart, but found nothing except a trail of the children’s belongings – watches, ribbons, that sort of thing. The trail led to a pond in the middle of the woods that nobody seemed to know about. Marty had suggested – to his brother, not to Denise – that perhaps the police should dredge the pond, but nobody seemed to notice. After a few days the police had abandoned the forest as empty of clues and turned their attention to leads from the public. An Amber Alert was issued even before nightfall on Friday, sending out news of the missing children to every news organization in the southern states, and a hotline was established. There had already been close to two thousand tips. So far, none of them had proved of use.
It was 11:47 now, and Denise discarded another tissue she had clutched and rubbed to her nose until only shreds of white fiber remained. She was reaching for a clean tissue when she heard the sliding glass door to the back yard glide open.
“Jerry?” she sniffed. “Is there any news?”
“It’s not Dad, Mom,” said a beautiful, familiar girl’s voice, a voice Denise secretly believed she would never hear again. Even before she turned around, even before she saw Linda and Benny standing there, clutching each other, the other three missing children behind them, even before Linda said, “We’re home,” all of Denise’s defenses vanished. She nearly trampled Jamie and hurtled the couch, grabbing a missing child in each arm and clutching them to her body, sobbing harder than she had since the police had arrived at their home Friday afternoon to tell them they had been kidnapped. Jamie approached tentatively, not sure what to do, but Denise grabbed her and pulled her into the embrace, and soon she was crying too. The four of them held onto each other and all of them began to cry, and as far as Denise Watson was concerned, they could stay in that tiny, leaking unit of family for the rest of her life, just so long as none of her children were ever out of her sight again.
* * *
It wasn’t until the next Monday that the children returned to school – only Gail was disappointed by that. Their teachers all were more than willing to allow them to make up the work they missed, and the kids each resolved to work harder than if they had been there in the first place.
Gail’s parents were ecstatic to have their daughter home, and over time, grew even happier with the change in her. She was more studious than before, more careful in school. She had never been a slack child, but now she seemed determined to make it to the top of her class. When her mother asked her about it, she just shrugged. “I’ve got to build up my mind,” Gail said. After a few months of this behavior, Gail’s father got brave enough to joke that if this was the result, he should arrange to have his daughter kidnapped more often. Her mother responded by throwing a pillow at him.
Kevin returned home to find his room full of gifts from his father – a new baseball glove, football, soccer ball, roller blades. Kevin showed his appreciation, but except for a new bicycle, he never used any of the gifts more than a handful of times. His appreciation for sports was undiminished, but his intention to pursue them seemed to be gone. He hopped on the bicycle the first time he convinced his mother to let him leave the house unattended again, rode to the Timberton Public Library, and got his first library card. The only other sports-inclined request he ever made, to which his father quickly agreed, was to be allowed to sign up for karate lessons.
Gene seemed mostly unchanged by his ordeal, although he did throw more of his time into his family and, especially, his pets. His two dogs got walked twice every day, his rabbit got only the freshest lettuce he could find, and his cat got more belly-rubs than the rest of the cats on the block combined. His mom pointed out to him that he was spending as much time with the animals as he was with his friends, who now included the two girls he’d been missing with, although he hadn’t really spent time with them before. “Well yeah, Mom,” he said. “Can’t you imagine how much it would suck if the animals weren’t here?”
Benny stayed away from his books for a while upon returning, but he drifted back to them. In fact, he began spending so much time reading that his parents got worried about him. Denise signed him up for sessions with the school counselor, who reported that Benny’s ordeal had made him retreat to his fantasy worlds. Benny, for his part, read and recited the stories and details of his books like any minor tidbit could be a matter of life and death. It actually got to the point where Denise forbid him to read for a time.
It was Uncle Marty who made the peace. He sat down with Benny one night and pulled him in close. “I know you miss your books, buddy, but your mom is just worried about you.”
“I need them,” Benny said.
“I know, I know, but you understand that you don’t really need them, don’t you?”
Benny just frowned.
“Okay, bad choice of words. How about this – you realize you need other things too, right? Your family, your friends, school… don’t those things matter to you anymore?”
“So how about a compromise? I’ll get her to give you your books back if you promise not to read ‘em 24-seven. Play outside. Read some of your schoolbooks. Let things get back to normal, okay?”
Benny eventually relented, and Marty made the piece between him and his mother. Before Benny was halfway through the Chronicles of Narnia, he’d made an A on his math test and joined the recreation department’s Pee-Wee football team, trading on his notoriety to get him in a few weeks late. After watching his first game, Denise commented that he had been safer back when he had himself locked in his room reading about bloodthirsty dragons.
Outwardly, Linda seemed affected the least by their experiences. The only change anyone noticed was a rapid, intense interest in her older sister. Jamie responded to the sudden deluge of attention by going back to school and spending more time away from her sister than before. Other than that, Linda seemed pretty much the same. Her grades stayed the same, her emotions didn’t change, she still liked sports and avoided books as much as ever. The people who had come back with her noticed only one thing – that she was much more alert than ever before. She was always looking around, taking stock of everything around her, gathering all the information she could about whatever environment she found herself in. It wasn’t a paranoid thing. She didn’t behave as though anyone was out to get her. Rather, it was more like she was waiting for something, although if you asked her, not even Linda would know what it was.
She realized it on the same day she stopped looking for it. It was about two months after they got back. November in Louisiana carried a coolness to the air, but it still wasn’t really chilly. Gene and Linda managed to talk Kevin and Gail into a two-on-two soccer match at recess that day, even though Kevin had wanted to show off some of the moves he’d learned in karate class, combined with a couple of the Cantrips he had learned in Lewiston.
“All right, Evernauts,” he said, using the name he’d adopted when it was only the four of them present. “Let’s have a game.”
Kevin and Linda paired off against Gene and Gail, who took a quick lead. It was 2-0 five minutes after they started, and where Kevin would once have gotten furious at losing, he was instead laughing at his own moves.
“Sorry, guys,” he said as a pass to Linda went wild, rolling right up to the fence.
“I got it,” Linda said. She ran to the fence as she once had for a baseball, taking in the area with her eyes. The entire school was to her back. The only person outside was a jogger, a young black man in a gray sweatsuit wearing a necklace, who she noticed had made a few laps around the school. He didn’t register as a threat.
As Linda ran up to the fence, he seemed to notice his shoelace was untied. He stopped and bent down, twisting the laces with his long, coffee-colored fingers and whistling the whole time. Linda had the ball in her hands and bounced it off her knee a few times, showing off for the others, when she caught the tune the jogger was whistling. The tune had words, she knew, for she had been taught them by someone very special.
“Heroes only exist in shadows,” she sang softly.
The jogger looked up at her and the necklace slipped free from his shirt. She realized there was a pendant dangling from the chain, what looked like a hand-carved and painted wooden eagle. The man smiled warmly, and she didn’t feel at all afraid.
She then did something she hadn’t tried since she left Nogard. She summoned up her powers and opened her Third Eye. The jogger began to glow with an intensity like Edward’s, and just like Edward, his heart and head had a beautiful golden aura. In her two ordinary eyes, the jogger winked and stood up.
You’re one of us now, Linda, Edward had told her. We’ll be keeping an eye on you.
“Linda? Hey, Linda?” Kevin put his hand on her shoulder and she snapped the Third Eye shut. The jogger smiled again, waved, and kept on his way.
“Something wrong there, Evernaut?” Kevin asked.
“No,” she said, “everything’s fine.”
Evernaut, he called her. It felt right. There was still so much out there… so much to learn… so much to do.
An Evernaut. That wouldn’t be a bad fate at all.