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Excerpt for The Signs of Sound by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



The Signs of Sound

by

ATLAS IRELAND


atlasireland.com


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Copyright 2018 Atlas Ireland


This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.


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All rights reserved.

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.




For K and V

with all my love

and for R, because he’s such a good boy



Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Epilogue

Connect with Atlas Ireland

CHAPTER 1



The only treasure little Jacy Marwick had managed to keep a secret all his life was a picture he’d once found in the attic when he was very, very little. All he remembered of that first house was the intense smell of roses that had seeped through the windows whenever the breeze found its way in. And when they’d moved to London, the photo was the first thing he’d tucked into his socks — so that his mother wouldn’t find it.

The focal point of the image was the myriad of fireworks going off above the lake. They reflected in his father’s eyes and the sparkling water behind. It must have been a celebration, with a bunch of people in the background and two in focus on either side of his dad — a girl and a boy in their teens. All three of them were grinning at the camera. The pang of jealousy he’d felt in his early years had dulled a little, only to be replaced by sad wondering about who those people were and the bittersweet hope that maybe, one day, Jacy would spot their faces in a crowd and ask them about his dad.

So, standing in London’s Victoria & Albert museum, one of the largest in the world, looking at a photo covering half the wall of a cavernous hall, Jacy blinked.

There it was, the winning entry of the national photo competition, which his mother had helped organise — dragging him along after school in the process. The fact that he might have been grasping at straws didn’t even cross his mind, it looked that familiar.

The picture showed a misty lake, sitting below stormy clouds, shielding the setting sun from view. But it was the outline of the mountains on the edge of that lake that Jacy now traced with his eyes, as he has done so many times before — only on another, more worn photo, almost identical to the one on the wall.

Jacy stepped closer, careful not to draw attention to himself, reading the caption below it.


Japan. The photo is entitled Hunting Dreams, representing the idyllic …


This photo had exactly the same viewpoint, as if someone had been standing in the exact same spot taking both pictures. It was in Japan.

With a craving need to hold the picture, Jacy took his backpack off and fished his photo out with his fingertips. He smoothed it out with his palm. The years were becoming visible, especially in the corners, however much he tried to look after it. Carrying it around with him wherever he went didn’t help.

Through all the times he’d searched for a clue that would bring him closer to his father, he had analysed every little detail of the photo, from the little book pattern on the girl’s scarf, the mountain in the background, to the square shape of a man’s glasses in the crowd. At times he entertained himself by creating stories around it.

Maybe it was the birthday party of a relative? Maybe …

Well, he had thought of it all, but he so wished he could ask his father. Sometimes he was lucky — sometimes he managed to talk with him in his sleep. He was even luckier if he could remember the conversation the next morning — talking about school, mean classmates, bad grades and getting real advice from his dad, even if it was just a dream.

The high museum windows let the still moonlight shine through, only the shadow of the gentle wind rustling a few leaves danced on the walls. The half-term holiday was supposed to start soon and Jacy was set on enduring the remaining time with as little human interaction as possible.

But he couldn’t drown out the sound of Vincent, his step-father, fake laughing while rubbing elbows with the buyers in the adjacent hall, so Jacy pulled on his headphones and stared at the photo on the wall some more. He had clear instructions: don’t run around, don’t leave the building and don’t cause trouble. Simple enough.

A rustle sounded from behind him. He slipped off the headphones and turned around, but no one was there. Shrugging, he was about to turn back to survey the mountain range, when something caught his attention.

One the windowsill of the north-facing wall, there was a leaflet which Jacy hadn’t noticed before. Strange, he thought, that’s the only thing in the room apart from the art pieces exhibited. Shrugging, he went to it to pick it up and throw it in the bin — but his hand froze above it.

It was a small, one-page leaflet with a paragraph and a large phone number across it.


International Family Tracing — British Red Cross | How can we help find your missing family?’


It might have taken moments, Jacy wasn’t sure, but eventually, he forced his mind out of its stupor and slid the leaflet into his backpack, right next to his father’s photo. He didn’t dare hold it in his hands, openly.

He walked out of the room very slowly, meandering around the building just to do something. All his thoughts were on that little piece of paper on top of the mess in his backpack.


* * *


Somehow he found himself on the second floor, a bit lost, trying to collect his courage to call the number. It was better not to think. The phone he had borrowed from his mother was in one of his hands and the leaflet he had fished out from the backpack in the other.

What did he have to lose? Jacy started pressing the numbers one by one. He had to redial twice because his fingers were slippery and slightly trembling. A few tourists threw him concerned glances but then got sidetracked by large Ancient Greek columns, showcasing the three major decorative styles of their time.

Finally, there was a ring. And another one. Listening to the sound in the receiver, through the sounds of his beating heart, Jacy was ready to hang up and drop it at any second. But then there was a click and a smooth voice.

‘International Family Tracing, how may I help?’ the voice was so perfect that it had a robotic quality to it. Was Jacy talking to an automated machine? He was so confused that he forgot that a reply was expected of him.

‘Hello?’ the voice said again.

‘Hi … Um …’ A blush was creeping up Jacy’s cheeks, which was stupid because it was just a phone call.

‘Are you looking for a relative?’ the voice coaxed gently.

‘Oh, no. No, no. Not me. Maybe.’ He had to get his head in order. ‘I was wondering … what is it that you do?’

‘We find lost relatives around the world.’

‘Anywhere?’

The voice paused. ‘Anywhere.’

‘And if I don’t know where he is?’

Another pause, a longer one. Jacy shook his head and looked around to see if anyone could have heard him — his father was a touchy topic at home. He should really think before he said things out loud.

‘I think you might, and that I can help,’ the voice said.

Something in the tone of the voice made Jacy pause and repeat the sentence in his mind. ‘Pardon?’

‘Think, Jacy.’

Jacy? Dread crept up his spine — he’d never said his name. Without thinking, he hung up and stuffed the phone in his pocket, getting rid of it as quickly as possible. Someone was playing a trick on him.

Yet, now, with it motionless and silent in his pocket, Jacy began to regret the reaction. Who could it have been? He almost expected it to start ringing any second. Surely, whoever it was would want to continue the joke. But nothing happened.

‘There you are,’ Jacy’s mother appeared on the stairs. ‘Do you still need my phone? I need to call our caterer. We’re running out of wine.’

There were many questions whirling around his mind as she looked at him.

‘You know when I asked you about my real dad?’

She slowed her steps and looked at him, pursing her lips.

‘I didn’t like it then and it’s not going to be pleasant now, Jacy. Out of respect to Vincent, you shouldn’t really ask. Where is this even coming from?’

‘Vincent’s not here now, Mum,’ Jacy said.

‘That does not change the facts,’ she said. The facts were what Jacy heard many times before: that his father was in prison, that he was an awful person, that he deserved to be there, that he was never interested in Jacy, that he didn’t even visit him on his birthday before he got locked up, and that everyone was better off without him.

But to Jacy these facts blended with what he felt every time his father talked to him in his dreams. Where he told Jacy the real facts — that he was innocent, that he loved Jacy very much, and that once he came out of prison he’d be there for Jacy, no matter what.

In his dreams, Jacy was not a murderer’s son.

‘But —,’

Do not even think about mentioning anything to her.’ The whisper of the same voice that spoke to Jacy on the phone reached his eardrum.

He spun around. The hall was empty, he glanced behind the columns, but no one was there.

Jacy, act natural and stop arguing with your mother,’ the whisper came.

He looked back at his mother. She was regarding him in bewilderment. He angled his ears closer to the headphones — but the voice wasn’t coming from there, either.

She’ll get suspicious,’ the voice said.

Should he tell his mother there was a voice speaking to him?

If you tell her anything, I won’t be able to help you help your father.

Yeah, he should probably say something to his mother … Or he could just pretend everything was fine. Jacy cleared his throat.

‘Sorry,’ he said, trying to calm his voice. ‘I won’t ask.’

Thankfully his mother’s expression softened. ‘Thank you, dear. Are you alright? Keep the phone, I’ll borrow Vincent’s.’

Jacy nodded and quickly excused himself and rushed back to the room with the photo of the mountains. To be sure, he peeked behind every door, around every little hollow-eyed bust where someone could have been hiding, but found nothing.

‘Are you there?’ he whispered.

There was no answer.

He sat on the windowsill, with the phone in his hands. Dialling again, Jacy sighed.

There was a click, then there was silence.

‘This is not the number for International Family Tracing, is it?’ Jacy tried.

‘No. But it is one that can help your father.’ It was the same voice, this time more cheery.

‘How do you know me?’

‘I don’t. And you don’t know me. But I have a message from your dad.’

Jacy frowned.

‘From prison?’ was all that came to his mind to say.

‘He’s worried about you,’ the voice said.

‘I don’t understand — he left.’

Somehow, the pause felt disapproving.

‘You did pick up the leaflet, Jacy. You did call. So, I’m quite confident you don’t actually believe that. What your mother choses to believe is her choice. ‘

Jacy did not remember his father. He had been about four years old when Ian Marwick had been sent to prison. And yet, what if this stranger was right — what if all those dreams were right?

‘So, he …’

‘He needs help. He’s in trouble. I will do what I can, but I need you to help me. And I can help you, but if you chose to do nothing, then you’re on your own.’

Now Jacy raised his eyebrows. He didn’t understand how those things followed logically. But, they did mean that there was a chance that he could see his father.

‘How do you know about me?’ he asked.

‘Same way I know about the photo in your bag.’

That was not an answer, but it didn’t sound like the voice was going to elaborate. His hands shook slightly as he looked around the room once again. The emptiness of it echoed around him. No one was coming in to look at the artwork, and somewhere in the back of his mind it registered that his mother would not be happy with the no-show.

As his fear settled, Jacy felt somewhere in between disbelief and confusion. A stranger was telling him what he had wanted to believe as long as he could remember. Jacy couldn’t stop himself from narrowing his eyes.

He lowered his voice and shifted his weight.

‘How do I know you’re telling the truth? You could be anyone. Why do you hide?’

There was a chuckle. ‘You mean, why don’t I just stroll up to your mother and ask her for a cup of tea and a helping hand in exonerating your father, maybe even breaking him out of prison? Besides the obvious, I’m not sure you’re ready to hear.’

‘I am,’ Jacy said straightening his back. ‘What do you mean?’

After a loud sigh, the voice spoke.

‘Vincent has put a perimeter radar on you. If any form of magic comes within three meters of you, it will trigger an alarm.’

Yeah, no. He wasn’t ready to hear that after all.

Magic?’ he glanced around himself. ‘Vincent has it? I’m sorry, but that’s not … it’s not really —’

‘It is. But that’s not the point.’

Jacy felt it was time to hang up right then. But he didn’t.

‘Um … okay. And how do you know my dad?’

‘I want to pay him back for helping me when I needed it. Plus, what happened to him was not right.’

This time Jacy didn’t speak for a while. He watched as the ancient museum dust eddied past him.

‘What I don’t understand is how I can help, when he’s in prison.’

‘I’ll be the one helping him, you will be helping me.’ There was a sound of a gentle slurp, then a gulp, and whoever was on the other end of the line waited for Jacy’s next question.

‘Do I have magic?’ he added, hoping his voice did not reverberate off the brown stones too loudly.

‘I don’t know,’ the voice chuckled slightly. ‘But you can train. If it turns out that you do, it will likely be linked to your father, making it easier to help him.’

‘Can you do magic?’ he asked.

‘I can.’

‘Right … So why don’t you just teleport my father here … or something?’

He hoped that wasn’t too stupid of a question, and he listened in case they hung up.

‘That’s not what my power can do. Maybe yours does. But we don’t want your mother and Vincent sending you to a psychiatric facility for trying, now do we?’

‘You just said Vincent used magic on me. So he should know about all this stuff already, right?’ Jacy wasn’t sure why he was trying so hard to poke holes in the voice’s argument. Maybe he was afraid to believe in something he’d been hoping for for so long.

‘Good luck making him admit it and your mother believe it.’ Then, as if a thought just came to the person’s mind, their voice sounded. ‘Has your father ever managed to contact you in any way?’

Surprised by the question, Jacy shook his head.

‘Okay, so why do you think he’s innocent?’

‘What do you mean?’ Jacy asked. ‘I don’t …’

Then Jacy realised that he’d just shaken his head and had not actually said anything.

‘Sure you do. Would you still be talking to me if you thought he murdered four people in cold blood? What I want to know is why you don’t believe Vincent and your mother.’

Jacy turned his head slowly and looked around the room in dread once more. Supposedly, if there was magic, and someone could communicate with him through his mind, could this someone also be invisible?

‘Don’t you want to ask me whether it’s true?’ the voice asked. ‘Whether he really did kill those people.’

Heavy silence echoed after those words. Jacy was still staring around the room.

‘If you’re wondering, I’m not there.’

Jacy stopped looking around. Then frowned, now looking out the window.

‘They told me,’ he said slowly. ‘About my dad.’

‘Who’s “they”?’

‘Everybody,’ he said quietly, not really daring to. He’d been teased about his father, no matter how much he had tried to keep it a secret. But some of his classmates were Vincent’s friends’ kids, so he supposed they would have heard about it from their parents anyway.

‘Jacy, I think you might have asked the wrong half of “everybody”.’

Strangely enough, Jacy’s stomach felt like it was being filled with butterflies.

‘So he didn’t do it?’ he asked.

An awkward silence settled for a bit.

‘I believe it was self-defense. Whatever he did, he did to protect his family.’

Not sure what to do with the information heap that had fallen on him, Jacy stared blankly in front of himself. He felt lost — he knew he shouldn’t have listened to a stranger in the first place. And yet …

‘So, you’re saying that your father never got to you? There were never any strange calls when you were alone in the house?’ the voice asked and Jacy was shaking his head to almost all of the questions with sadness. ‘No letters addressed to you? Any whispers? Never? Hmm …’

‘I don’t even know what he looks like, apart from this picture, and that’s where I get the image of his face from when he resurfaces in my dreams …’

‘So he does contact you.’

‘It’s a dream. Other people do it too. Don’t you dream? It’s just that in my dreams I talk to Dad.’

There was an exhale after that, but the voice did not say anything further. Jacy felt like someone was going to jump out shouting ‘Surprise!’ at any moment, but as the lightly gilded clock worked through the minutes, no one did.

‘I could try helping. But how?’

‘It’s not that simple, they will stop any of your attempts to communicate with your father or anyone else.’

This person, whoever they might be, could be his ticket to his father and he didn’t want to lose that. Even if it felt utterly crazy. He decided to try to persuasion.

‘But I’m talking to you now.’

‘Let me be clear about what we’re talking about, Jacy. Your dad won’t make it out of prison if someone doesn’t help him.’

Jacy stood in silence after that, looking out through a large, arched window onto the courtyard’s fountain. This meant a real chance to reunite with his father.

‘Okay,’ he finally said. ‘So, you’re telling me there is magic, right? I mean every magic I’ve heard of in books and stories is different. Werewolves, vampires, magic wands, spells —’

‘All those come from someone using their energy creatively. That’s all it really is,’ the voice said. ‘We have a more pressing issue here. Think about the fact that your dad needs your help. Think about it carefully. Your father would kill me if he found that I didn’t try to help you two reunite when I could.’

‘Does that mean you have powers to help him?’ Jacy asked, hope squeezing his lungs, just as a slight movement caught his eye. The window on the opposite side of the courtyard had a strange looking shadow. The longer he looked at it, the more it looked like an outline of a person in the darkness.

There was a brief pause before the voice said, ‘I’ll try my best.’

But it wasn’t coming from the phone at Jacy’s ear — it was coming from the window opposite, where a woman’s shape was moving with the words.

‘I don’t even know who you are!’

My name is Thessa.

‘Can I at least meet you?’

After a slight delay, the voice sounded. ‘I’ll see what I can do.’

‘Okay,’ Jacy frowned. ‘But … but …’

Hold on.



CHAPTER 2



Jacy had no idea how long to hold on. But the pause gave him an opportunity to think and to observe. He kept watching Vincent from behind the threshold — where he went, whom he talked to, what he said — for any sign at all that he had magic in him, or that he was using it on Jacy. But there was nothing.

The possibility of reuniting with his father felt too surreal to even consider. But Jacy still thought about it. He thought about what he would take with him, in the very unlikely case of actually being able to live with his dad sometimes — his mother would likely fight that. Probably the photo, clean clothes and his favourite pajamas. Just because. He wasn’t actually thinking of doing it. Nah.

He looked out towards the entrance hall through the shop, in case the woman was there, but instead was hit by a huge gust of wind that blew prickling droplets on the back of his neck as the door to the courtyard behind him opened and closed.

Jacy frowned among the sculptures, which were more like wire sticks and slabs of metallic plate glued together. Jacy remembered making similar ones in kindergarten.

He was making up excuses to say to the woman about wanting to know more about his father first, and maybe more about magic, when his mother suddenly appeared.

She pressed a ten-pound note into his hand. ‘I need you to get a cup of tea from the garden café and take it to that lady over there,’ she hastily pointed at a tiny woman with short hair who looked like she was going to burst into tears. ‘Actually, make it a chamomile tea — she’s a valuable client, we need her calm and happy. And maybe surprise Vincent with an iced coffee while you’re at it.’

Jacy wanted to grimace, but decided not to start a fight so, turning around, he just waded through the mass of bodies to the glass double-doors leading to the enclosed square courtyard.

It looked like everyone had decided to have coffee just then, as the queue from the little coffee bar almost spiraled onto itself. Jacy took up his place, looking around the windows of the museum that lined all four sides of the garden, wondering when he’d be able to hear the voice again. The wind kept ruffling a copy of that day’s free newspaper on a wet chair nearby, page by page, as if with an invisible hand. There were articles on a faulty alarm at the Natural History Museum that annoyed residents in a half-mile radius, a puzzle, an interview with the winner of a baking competition —

Don’t turn around.’

Jacy’s senses sharpened to the environment, looking for the woman named Thessa. He glanced very slowly at the windows to his side but there was nothing that he could make out there.

You wanted to talk.

He paused, fearing he would sound ridiculous, before whispering and trying not to move his lips too much. ‘I have to tell you right now that I am probably not helpful at all. Um, when you said that thing about magic … was it … what I mean is, I don’t know if I can really do it.’

Me neither,’ her voice said. ‘But if you don’t try, that will remain to be the case.

There was a tiny movement in the reflection in the window in front of him, at which Jacy squinted. Somewhere behind him, towards the end of the queue, was a woman talking. Her face moved with the words Jacy was hearing, but he couldn’t see much apart from the deep cherry-red hair and a same-coloured scarf snaking around her neck, obscuring her chin and parts of her cheeks. It wasn’t that cold though, Jacy thought.

‘What could my power be?’ he asked, watching for the woman's reaction.

I don’t know. In any case, it will need a lot of practise.

‘What kind of practise?’ He hoped there was a way to speed up the process. The quicker he could find his power, the quicker they could help his dad and make sure his mother wouldn’t discover him lying. ‘What about my dad — you said he could use my dreams?’

Obviously, something happened if he hadn’t contacted you for a while,’ she said and suddenly glanced right into the reflection of Jacy’s eyes, which made him jump and turn around.

Her eyes widened, then she shook her head at him. She looked at her wrist, as if checking the time, then at the queue, shaking her head — as if she was annoyed by the waiting time for the coffee cart, and started for the double doors on the opposite side of the courtyard. Jacy momentarily panicked that he had scared her away before her voice sounded again. ‘Follow me in a few moments.’

Jacy exhaled and waited until she’d disappeared through the doors. Abandoning his place in the queue, he followed after her.

His swift steps took him inside a dining area with high ceilings, an ancient fireplace, and a piano which sounded with a familiar melody dancing through the space. He just about caught a red figure disappearing to his right. She was following the halls around the garden that they had just come from, so Jacy hurried along.

Out of nowhere, Thessa fell into step beside him. She watched a couple coming out of the 16th century German hall as they walked, not paying much attention to Jacy, so he cleared his throat. She didn’t stop, continuing to the corner of the building, where they trotted up the stairs. She peeked inside the empty library wing as they reached the top landing.

‘What would you need from me next?’ Jacy asked.

‘You’d need to sit down with us and answer a bunch of questions — anything we’d need to know — and that can take a while.’ Her real voice sounded different, as if she had been disguising it before.

‘With us?’

‘MOVE!’ a man’s steely voice sounded behind them. ‘Mooooove!’

Before Jacy could get past the surprise or ask anything, he saw the figure running towards them. He tried not to gawk, but Jacy couldn’t keep his eyes off the silhouette. Even though he resembled a human being, he reminded Jacy of a statue — like an ancient Greek monument stomping clumsily across the dimly lit hall in a torn suit.

His looks were too smooth, too artistic, too perfect — as if right from the imagination of a sculptor. He had high cheek bones, prominent eyes, and glowing skin.

Jacy took a step back. The goosebumps on his arms didn’t help with the feeling that the man was distinctly non-human, either.

‘We have to go,’ he panted at Thessa from the middle of the hall, looking so pale and frightened that even Jacy’s heartbeat accelerated. ‘We need to leave, they spotted me.’

‘What?’ Thessa started turning, a bewildered look on her face. Jacy followed her gaze, palms sweating. If this creature was frightened, whatever it was that had chased him must have been bad enough. But both of them seemed to have forgotten Jacy was there. He really hoped they wouldn’t leave him behind with whatever monstrosity was after them. ‘What do —’

‘Come on,’ the creature extended his hand to Thessa. At the end of the corridor from which he had emerged, Jacy saw a light flicker. Then another. ‘Let’s —’

Paling, Thessa flung herself towards the creature and took his hand. In that split second, before being jerked away, she glanced at Jacy with a frown, as if checking whether he was still there.

Only Jacy was there, and, whatever this monster was, he did not want to face it on his own.

On instinct, as Thessa was being propelled away, Jacy grabbed the creature’s other hand. As he did, the museum disappeared and he felt a huge tug mid-air that jerked his shoulder with such a force that he thought it got dislocated.


* * *


‘WHAT. THE. HECK. WAS. THAT?’ Thessa’s voice shouted.

‘It was unsafe to stay there,’ the creature replied.

Jacy’s stomach was about to get rid of all of its contents and the world was tilting dangerously, so he leaned against something to his right and tried to breathe deep breaths. He blinked a few times, mostly, because they were standing in the middle of a countryside estate’s driveway.

‘You’re banned from the V&A too?’ Thessa had her back to Jacy, but he felt the anger reverberate from her without seeing her face. The shouting was also quite telling. The creature didn’t answer, so she shouted more. ‘You’re banned from all museums in London?’

‘No need to get upset,’ the creature smoothed his plastic-looking hair down and looked at Jacy. ‘I think there might be a bigger problem here.’

Thessa turned back and froze in place.

The next words that came out of her mouth were so quiet that they scared even Jacy. ‘You have kidnapped Ian Marwick’s son.’

‘Well,’ the creature strolled to the iron gate leading to a long driveway beyond. ‘Technically, we kidnapped Ian Marwick’s son.’

‘Domyk —’

‘It’s not my fault he grabbed my hand!’

Thessa now looked at Jacy in earnest. ‘No need to panic, Jacy. Everything will be alright. Just don’t panic.’

‘I don’t think the little human is panicking,’ the creature remarked.

‘Jacy, we just teleported from the V&A. And by accident you came with us. I obviously didn’t plan it this way,’ Thessa said.

‘I’m pretty sure this would be evident even to this human’s brain.’

Jacy was still more focused on the fact that he’d barely blinked and found himself fighting nausea in a sunny expanse in front of a dusty, tree-lined road instead of the entrance to the museum’s library.

‘I’m really sorry, Jacy.’ Thessa looked at him with worried eyes.

‘That’s okay,’ Jacy said, although he wasn’t sure how okay he was. ‘I won’t tell anyone, I promise. And my Mum is pretty busy, so I’m sure she didn’t notice me missing. As long as I bring her the tea soon, she’ll be fine. Can you take me back?’

Thessa had a funny look about her. ‘Not really.’

‘Okay, I’ll take the bus.’

‘From the middle of Gibraltar?’ Domyk said. ‘Be my guest.’

Jacy slowly twirled, looking at the sun-kissed trees, the peaceful chirping of the birds in them and the slow breeze caressing both. They were in Gibraltar? Considering it was autumn, the late afternoon heat was indeed strong. Then, what had happened started sinking in. How on earth would he get home, and what would he do if these two just left him here, completely alone? He didn’t know much about Gibraltar — actually, he knew nothing about Gibraltar.

‘No. Jacy, listen to me. Please help me help your dad. This is not ideal but we have to make the best of the situation. I’ll get you home the moment you ask me.’

‘But why not now?’ Jacy didn’t like this at all. ‘I’m asking now.’

‘We can’t reuse the portal for a while,’ Thessa said.

‘But my mum will worry!’ Jacy said.

‘We’ll … I don’t know, we’ll … call her and let her know you’re okay.’

‘Really?’ Domyk snorted. ‘That’s a great idea.’

After noticing Thessa's glare, he suddenly found something interesting to observe in a tree behind them.

‘If you come with us now, no one will be able to find us,’ Thessa said to Jacy. ‘I took care of the cameras, and eyewitnesses will just describe how I look now. To be fair, I suspect Vincent will automatically assume your father is behind it, but we can deal with that later.’

‘Wait … does my dad know about this? Will he get in trouble?’

‘No. He doesn’t know — it's safer for him this way. He'll be able to deny any knowledge of this even if they use a truth serum on him.’

There was a silence for a while, in which Thessa seemed to ponder their next move and Jacy tried to imagine what he’d do if someone used a truth serum on him. Then he looked around, trying to figure out if they really, really were in Gibraltar.

‘Well,’ Domyk clasped his hands together, or at least tried to — it came out as more of a clap. ‘You figure this out — I’ll check if the coast is clear.’

Thessa nodded and the next second, Domyk was gone.

‘But he just teleported! Why can’t we teleport back?’ Jacy exclaimed.

‘Because Domyk triggered that alarm, so they’ll be monitoring for him around London for quite a while. And even though he’s a poltergeist and their movements are almost impossible to track, there are ways. So he needs to hop around for a while, leaving traces everywhere, before coming back here.’

Jacy didn’t want to embarrass himself by looking unsettled by supernatural beings or teleportation, so he nodded as if a poltergeist was the most natural thing to have a serious conversation about. But it was one thing to see on TV or read in comic books about how they were house guardians and supposedly quite evil, and another to actually meet one.

Then, as thoughts whirled around his mind, Jacy started breathing quicker, ‘Do you promise to take me home if I ask you to?’

He had no idea why he was saying what he was saying, but it just came out.

She looked at him carefully. ‘Of course.’

No matter. Jacy knew to find the police in case something went awry.

‘Can I go home any time? If I go with you, I mean.’ Jacy started saying, looking up at her.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘But that choice will be final. Once you go back, you’ll never find me again. You probably won’t remember me either.’

Strange, how would he not remember her? It’s not like he had people coming up to him every day offering to help his father. Which is another reason he couldn’t really let this opportunity go. He already got teleported to Gibraltar, it was unlikely that the situation would get worse than this.

‘If I go with you, what happens next?’ Jacy asked.

‘You’ll have to come with us, help find your dad and, once it’s safe, you can come back.’ Thessa started saying. ‘So, are you saying … ?’

‘If you really think it’s possible, I’d like to help my dad,’ Jacy said. He had been dreaming of an opportunity like this for almost eight years, and he wasn’t likely to get another one any time soon. Not many people walked around with a magical ability, willing to reunite him with his father.

‘Okay then.’

Jacy nodded to that, feeling crazy.

Everything was mixed up in his head, but his father’s face floated clearly in his mind. His calm smiling expression to which Jacy talked in his dreams so many times — telling him about school, life, home. And now he might have a chance to get an answer.

He hesitated a little, but then a good type of fear mixed with the residual nausea took over. Excitement. He decided that if this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he was going to try to make it work.

‘I hope you have a plan B,’ Domyk reappeared on the other side of the gate and started climbing over it — as if he had never moved a limb in his life. Then he noticed Jacy’s gaze. ‘What are you looking at? I haven’t yet gotten used to this muscle structure.’

Thessa frowned, ‘What happened?’

With a leg on either side of a base pillar, the ghost cleared his throat, or whatever it was that it had. ‘A certain Sergeant Hollister from the City of London Police has just contacted a certain Calvin Bleeker at Interpol, who is in the process of finding a certain partner of his about, the — um — situation.’

With a little delay, the word ‘Interpol’ hit Jacy over the head like a hammer.

‘Interpol? What does that mean? Do they know about my dad? Maybe I should talk to them? I’ll tell them that it was all a misunderstanding? And we can try another day.’

Thessa laughed at that.

‘It’s not that particular Interpol that Domyk is talking about. There is an international supernatural police department, which deals with crimes that contain a magical trace.’

’But you just said you took care of cameras and teleportation traces?’ Jacy said.

‘Your pal Vincent was monitoring you.’ Domyk cleared his throat again and mumbled to himself, ‘These human voice cords …’

‘No — why would he?’ Jacy asked.

‘Just in case your dad broke out and came looking for you, maybe? I don’t know,’ Thessa said.

‘I really don’t think Vincent can do anything like that. He’s harmless.’ Jacy felt worried — being brought back to his mother and Vincent by Interpol wasn’t a great prospect.

‘Hmm.’ Domyk tilted his head, as if listening to something Jacy couldn’t hear. ‘A trail search has been started for your boy here.’

‘What? Already?’ Thessa said, her posture shifting slightly, the news clearly interfering with her plans.

‘What’s a trail search?’ Jacy asked — if Thessa was agitated, maybe he should be too, even if the poltergeist behaved as if he was reciting the weather forecast. ‘I mean, I’m guessing it’s a type of magic, but what is it — is it like superhero powers in movies and someone’s using it against me?’

The question seemed to sidetrack Thessa. ‘People have various talents. It seems whoever created your perimeter radar is also skilled at putting a trace on it, a sort of magical aura. Then again, perhaps, it was another person who did the trace separately. If so, Vincent must have gone to huge lengths to make it happen.’

Jacy started feeling more and more self-conscious about not knowing things about powers and talents and poltergeists. Thessa was clearly preoccupied with other things — she took a map out of her back pocket and started reading minuscule labels while tracing her finger along a route.

Domyk was now trying to jump off the bottom rail of the gate, ‘It definitely wasn’t a strong power, and they didn’t expect a strong power, they didn’t even think to ward against particular traits — I didn’t detect much protection.’

Jacy tried not to get disheartened about how ineffective he might end up being in helping his father if he didn’t even know the basics. He stayed silent, but Domyk strolled up to him, leaning in, squinting, scrutinising Jacy’s eyes, and making him feel very uncomfortable.

Why — you’d ask,’ Domyk was smirking at Jacy. Maybe poltergeists truly were mean. ‘Have you heard of superstitions, young human? Superstitions ward against magic — very strong magic. Most of you humans don’t even have enough magic to have powers, let alone enough to warrant the need of superstitions as protection, so I don’t know why you bother.’

Domyk was now eyeing a bird on the same nearby tree he had been looking at before — his gaze more predatory than Jacy would consider normal.

Still seemingly mesmerised by the bird, Domyk spoke again. ‘Oh and before you even think that you might have that kind of power — you have nothing to worry about, I haven’t met anyone with true greatness in a decade, and you … well, you’re too … something.’

‘Something?’

‘Indeed,’ Domyk scrunched his nose. ‘Something annoying.’

Jacy was about to huff and puff at the insult, when Thessa folded up the map and stepped towards them.

‘Enough. You better behave Domyk,’ he heard her say. ‘Let’s make two decoy stops, then we walk.’

She took Jacy's hand, then Domyk's. Even though he knew what was coming this time and braced his muscles, Jacy was thrown around with such a force that by the third tug he was ready to let go — not even caring where in the world he’d get spewed out mid-teleportation.

Then, as if a switch had been flipped, the light came back, sending a prickling pain through Jacy’s eyes. THUMP! His feet connected with the ground, feeling as if the ground itself was pushing back.

Jacy’s stomach was in knots for the first few breaths, then a cool, soothing breeze hit his face and he heard something thundering rhythmically. His head was still swirling but he started perceiving the things around him in sharp focus.

They had teleported to a small road on a hill. It overlooked a highway which meandered in the distance. Beyond it, the ocean sparkled from the midday sun, mesmerising Jacy. The thunderous sounds he had heard before were the waves crashing below. Right next to them a dense wall of fiery-coloured trees stood obscuring what was beyond.

Thessa and Domyk were facing the trees and both started fumbling around in the vegetation, looking for something.

‘Can I help?’ Jacy asked,

Domyk was knocking on each tree around them.

‘We don’t know where the entrance is,’ Thessa said, shuffling through golden autumn leaves on the ground. ‘Neither of us have been here for a while.’

Jacy cleared his throat, a little apprehensive of the answer to his next question. ‘Where exactly is here?’

‘Nova Scotia, Canada,’ she said. ‘Hence the time difference.’

Canada?’ he asked.

She nodded.

Then a clang sounded. Domyk hit a tree that was different. In fact, Jacy realised, it wasn’t a tree at all as the top of it lit up. It was a lamp post overgrown with plants and moss. And it was the only lamp post Jacy could see for miles.

A panel became visible at Jacy’s eye level and Domyk put his hand on it. Almost instantaneously, a click sounded from further among the trees. They all walked over and stepped through a small iron gate between two trees — a gate which had not been there a moment before.

Jacy almost expected to teleport again, or step into a whole different world, but nothing happened. They kept walking and the trees were just as before, the sun stayed where it had been, and the waves were still audible from where they were.

‘What’s with the gate?’ he asked, to which Domyk laughed, stopping the moment he saw Thessa staring at him pointedly.

‘It allows us to find the road — that road,’ she pointed to a small clearing in the distance where a dirt road started from, carving a wide path through the canopy of leaves. ‘Otherwise, we’d be walking around in circles through the forest.’

Reaching that road, they continued along it, weaving beside fields, emerging on magnificent coastlines with white clouds stretching over the ocean, before finally reappearing in a vast plain. Jacy felt his jaw drop.



CHAPTER 3



The plain that lay in front of them was so huge that Jacy could barely see the end of it. To add to his disorientation, the wind was now roaring and whistling in his ear so that no matter which way he turned, he couldn’t shield himself from it. Even Jacy’s nostrils felt cold, and he realised the open space wasn’t doing much to insulate them from the weather.

‘We’re here,’ Thessa said, looking at a spot in the distance. ‘It’s not much, but you are very welcome.’

There, an eerie house was towering over the plain, its edges blurred by shadows.

‘It’s so … open.’ That was the first word that came to Jacy’s mind as he looked around. He spotted a faint light blinking periodically in the distance. A lighthouse maybe — but even squinting, he couldn’t see much of it.

With every step they took, the outline of the house grew clearer. Then the detail appeared — the garage right under a tree which was leaning in whichever whimsical direction the wind was taking it, the shaky stairs leading up to the porch, the completely dark, dirty windows. The house seemed battered; its structure massive and strong, no doubt, but Jacy thought there was something brittle about it as well.

They climbed the rickety porch stairs which creaked under their feet one by one. Then Thessa knocked on the door. Was there someone else there?

The veranda screeched in the wind and, in the colourful mosaic glass panel in the centre of the door, Jacy noticed something move and felt the urge to step back from the door. Domyk went to it and put his hand on the handle.

But it didn’t give.

Domyk rattled it, but still nothing. It was as if it was jammed.

‘For goodness sake!’ He banged on the door. ‘It hasn’t been that long.’

The moment Domyk shimmered and shifted to an almost transparent state, Jacy froze to the spot.

‘Can’t you wait with that?’ Thessa hissed at Domyk, and then turned to Jacy. ‘Apologies. It’s just that he can’t always control —’

‘Can’t control? Are you insulting me?’ Domyk’s steely voice rose a few notes as he shifted back to his previous shape. ‘I’m right here, I’m not deaf, and I’m not dead.’

‘You are not alive either,’ Thessa said with an irritated tone.

‘Well, what do you suppose I do? The house isn’t recognising me,’ Domyk hissed.

‘And whose fault is that, do you think?’ Thessa’s snapped.

‘Well, it might just have to do with someone who decided to grab my hand when I was trying to save ourselves, giving me no time to prepare the house ahead of time —’

‘I didn’t do that on purpose!’ Jacy exclaimed, butting in. It was really unfair of the ghost to blame him.

The lock clicked open.

‘Don’t worry, Jacy, come in,’ Thessa said.

She walked in and shook off her boots as Jacy carefully stepped around Domyk and followed her.


* * *


It was as if Jacy had teleported again, for the inside of the house was in complete contrast with the dreary, cold weather outside. Jacy found himself in a small hall that opened to a living room on the left and a huge dining room on the right. The wide arch separating the rooms formed part of the same space, just like the stairs leading up to the first floor.

‘Okay,’ Thessa took off her shawl and hung it on the hook behind the front door. The hook promptly fell off, taking some of the wall with it.

She shook her head, went to the living room and started yanking off cloths from the old furniture — raising dust clouds in the process — revealing a sofa, a coffee table and an armchair. Only a blackened fireplace stood in the centre uncovered. ‘There is a lot of work to do in the house. There’s a room for you upstairs, but none of this has been used for years, so it still needs tidying up.’

‘Whose house is it?’ Jacy asked, looking around. The curtains were drawn at every window. The dining room was slightly darker and had a massive table with dried grass standing in a small mason jar in the centre of it, which Jacy guessed had been flowers at some point.

‘Ours,’ she said without further elaboration on why their own house didn’t let them in. ‘I suggest you sleep here on the sofa tonight. Are you hungry?’

Jacy thought about that for a moment but interestingly enough, he wasn’t hungry. The space in his stomach that was usually occupied by food was taken over by knots and butterflies, so he shook his head. Then his eyes bulged, as Thessa reached to her cherry red hair and removed it, revealing her real deep chestnut hair, which cascaded down her shoulders.

‘I’ll make you a cup of tea, you look horrible. Desynchronosis can do that to you,’ Domyk said. Then, catching Jacy’s blank face, he added, ‘Jetlag. It means jetlag.’

He moved around them and disappeared into the dining room, and from somewhere in that direction, Jacy heard water running and mugs banging on a hard surface.

He tried to hold his lips closed to stifle a yawn unsuccessfully. His legs felt heavy, and the sofa beckoned him.

‘The bathroom is on your right as you go up the stairs,’ Thessa said. ‘There’s a clean towel, a toothbrush and a pair of pajamas there for you. Domyk will try to get you some clothes tomorrow.’

However much Jacy tried to fight them, thoughts about what his mother was doing, whether they were looking for him, and how could he let her know that he was okay, crept into his mind. And yet, here was this one person in the world who believed what Jacy felt: that his father was not who everyone painted him to be. He couldn’t let that go.

Thessa started arranging the sofa-bed for him. She turned off the main light, and its glare was replaced by the soft hue of a small lamp on the coffee table. Domyk walked into the room, carefully balancing two full mugs in his veiny hands.

The pleasant smell of the tea reached Jacy. ‘Could I call my mother now?’

Domyk set the mugs down, disappeared, and barely a second or two later reappeared with a phone already in his hand, offering it to Thessa.

‘Mistake,’ he said, pointedly.

She pulled her mouth to the side, ‘It’s untraceable.’

‘It has never been traced before. Big difference,’ he said.

She dismissed him with a shake of the head and dialled what Jacy guessed was his home phone number, handing it to Jacy. He would have to ask her why it was that she knew the number by heart. But, it started ringing and continued, each time the ring seeming longer. Jacy’s hand started sweating — what if his Mum was really mad? The ringing stopped, only it was the voicemail message that sounded.

That would have to do for now, and at least he wouldn’t chicken out completely, as he might have done if he heard his mum’s voice. Thessa discreetly occupied herself with a few pillowcases, but Domyk watched Jacy like a hawk. ‘Hi Mum … hi Vincent. I’m okay … This was an accident … I mean, I don’t mean an actual accident, I am really fine. Please don’t worry. I’ll be home soon, I just need to —’ Domyk snatched the phone out of his hand and pressed the button to end the call. ‘Hey!’

‘You’re not giving them a motive that could tie us back to it,’ he said.

‘I wasn’t going to!’ Jacy said, indignantly.

Thessa took one of the mugs and plopped down in the armchair.

‘Domyk, I’m sorry we couldn’t visit Prague, I know it’s on your list, and I promise next time we’re close, we’ll stop by. But that’s not a reason to be this cranky and mean to Jacy.’

It took Domyk a few seconds to compose his features. ‘Let us concentrate on next steps, so that we resolve this situation as quickly and efficiently as possible.’

Jacy wasn’t sure if that was a diplomatic way of apologising or if it was a diplomatic way to insult Jacy. He ignored that thought and turned to Thessa.

‘What do we do next, then?’

‘I don’t know,’ she said.

Jacy blinked. ‘You don’t know?’

‘I need more information before we can proceed, so I’m planning a trip to town tomorrow —’

‘You need to take the child as well,’ Domyk interrupted. ‘I need the house to myself to be able to make this mess suitable for humans. And at least if something goes down in Celestial Hiss you can use him as your bargaining chip, or a hostage, or just throw him into their lap and run.’

Thessa scowled at him, ‘Nothing is going to go down. And no one is throwing Jacy anywhere —’

At the same time, Jacy asked, ‘Celestial Hiss?’

Thessa rested her head against the back of the armchair. ‘It’s a secret town. They say whoever doesn’t want to be found, magically or otherwise, lives there. There are all sorts of laws in place to guard it, which they set themselves. For example, every visitor crossing its border is logged and no one else apart from the town itself has jurisdiction — meaning the international police can’t investigate crimes there unless specifically allowed or invited by the town itself.’

‘Meaning,’ Jacy frowned as his mind caught up, ‘that the international magical police who were after me can’t reach me there.’ To which Thessa nodded and smiled. It felt as if a weight lifted from Jacy’s shoulders and he nestled into the sofa, ‘So where are we going to start? Whatever information you need, I might help.’

We are not going to start anywhere. I’ll take you to the library, where you’ll wait for me while I figure this out. On a side note — in your dreams, has your dad ever mentioned anything about where he might be?’

‘I don’t think so.’ Jacy shook his head, but his mind was still focused on the library part. Maybe it wouldn’t be that bad if Thessa didn’t take him wherever she was going — libraries contained archives, so maybe he’d be able to find some news reference to his father’s case there.

‘Ian had a particular talent for communication and deciphering it. But how he managed to even get to your dreams, I still don’t know, especially with Vincent around you.’

Jacy avoided saying anything about that, as he didn’t want to argue or offend Thessa — he’d lived in the same house with Vincent for years, and there was truly nothing magical about him. ‘Do you think my mum has magic?’

‘She probably does, but isn’t using it. And some powers are more abstract than others.’

‘What is yours?’ Jacy asked. ‘Is it opening locks? Or walking through walls?’ It must have been something special if she was confident about reuniting him with his father.

‘It’s best to keep one’s powers private — I’d advise you to do the same, if you find you have some. Not many talented people go around showcasing theirs.’

Jacy still had questions he wanted to ask, but his eyelids were burning with tiredness and once he blinked they didn’t want to open again. All he registered before a soft rhythm lulled him to sleep was Thessa taking the mugs and turning off the light before softly wishing him good night.



CHAPTER 4



Jacy blinked a few times when he awoke. He let his brain catch up on his surroundings, but his eyes felt like someone was poking them full of breadcrumbs. The entire house seemed different from the night before. All the curtains were pulled aside letting the sunshine in, the windows were open, so was the front door and a chilly wind was blowing around the entire house. It smelled of something damp and salty — they must have been close to the ocean.

He climbed off of the sofa, and saw that the dining room table was set with some fresh bread, croissants, porridge, and a cup of juice already. But only Domyk was sitting at the table — a large newspaper spread in front of his face.

‘Thessa is helping upstairs You could make yourself useful too, you know,’ his voice sounded behind the page.

Jacy sat down at the table while the draught tousled his hair. He tore a piece of bread and started chewing it, deciding he should make an effort to win the poltergeist over.

‘Sure, what do you need help with?’

Domyk lowered the newspaper and looked up very slowly. ‘You can dust the cupboard in the pantry.’

Jacy turned around and through the open door, saw the old green cupboard that had carved legs and faded painted flowers on its doors. Should be easy.

Domyk then added, ‘The shed hasn’t been cleaned in a long time.’

‘Okay, I’ll start right after breakfast,’ Jacy nodded, but the look on Domyk’s face suggested that, had it been up to him, Jacy would have to work for that breakfast first, so Jacy changed the topic quickly. ‘Can I ask how old you are?’

Domyk didn’t look up again. ‘I’m a timeless masterpiece.’

Getting an answer, Jacy felt braver.

‘So … you’re not a ghost …’ Domyk grunted at those words. ‘… not really a poltergeist … but …’ there Jacy stopped, unsure. Domyk frowned.

‘Jacy Marwick, I am a powerful guardian spirit, currently employed at this house. Your work won’t do itself, though.’

Jacy ate quickly, finishing almost everything that was set out. He went back to the sofa, folded the bed covers, got dressed and went upstairs to brush his teeth.

As he got to the top of the stairs, he halted. Then one step after another, past bookcases, he started moving to the back of the upstairs hall. Glass covered the entire back wall looking out to the never-ending glistening ocean beyond.

The house was perched on the top of a high cliff. Jacy pressed his cheek against the glass and looking to the left, the only thing he could distinguish was that lighthouse on the rocky shore, signalling with a slow pace.


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