Authors: Hannah Sullivan
BY HANNAH SULLIVAN
Copyright © 2014, Hannah Sullivan
Cover Art © 2014 Jennifer Kibbe Day
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form, or stored in a database or retrieval system without prior written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental. If you do, however, manage to Bend between the Layers: Peace be with you!
This book is dedicated to my family, by blood and by heart.
You are my world.
HE PRESSURE IN MY CHEST IS SO TIGHT
, it’s like someone’s squeezing my lungs in their fists. I can’t breathe. Realizing I need to do something to calm the frenzied racing of my heart, I try to adjust my position. But I can’t move. And I definitely can’t think of a way to release the pressure. If the squeezing doesn’t stop, my vital organs will burst and Mom and Dad are going to freak that I’ve somehow managed to implode in the back seat of their car.
A surge of white light flares from behind my closed eyelids and the silence that follows is deep enough to make my eardrums thud. Steady and low and pulsating. The light fades to a dull red and then a recognizable sound penetrates my skull.
What on earth? Shouldn’t I be hearing angel wings and harps? What, you may ask, am I getting instead?
Seriously? I’m a city kid. I’ve never been around a real horse before, but I’m pretty sure I know my animal sounds. I swear I hear hoof beats and my body now seems to be moving to the same rhythm.
The heaviness in my chest releases and my body feels weightless and fractured, no longer connected to me. Then the sensation is gone and cold air is blasting against my back, shoving me forward into something firm and lumpy. It would help if I could move or at least open my eyes. Or
. I could probably make sense of whatever’s happening. Instead, I let myself fall into nothingness and hope for the best.
IV!” MY DAD CALLS THROUGH THE HOUSE
. “Don’t forget to grab that pile of snow stuff in the hallway. At the rate we’re going, Gunther’s cabin will be buried by the time we get there.”
Rolling my eyes, I bounce down the stairs gripping my pillow as my backpack thumps against my spine, its heaviness wanting to tug me backward. We’re having Thanksgiving at Dad’s friend’s house. Actually, to say “friend” doesn’t cut it. Gunther is closer than a brother to my dad. We’ve all grown up on tales of how Dad was running as fast as he could into hoodlumdom (which I highly doubt is even a word, but who am I to question the sanctity of the stories?); and here comes Gunther Ryland, ten years older, ten shades darker, and about ten shoulders wider than pale, scrawny Dad.
Dad had been a smart kid. Really. Like skip-grades smart. But he never fit in and was often bored and looking for ways to express his inner hellion. Having no friends and ever-changing foster parents can lead to quirks like that. Gunther was a part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and he started to join Dad both at school for lunch and out of school for “structured activities.” Slowly he got Dad to refocus his “erstwhile energies into productive choices and long term goals.”
Dad is now Dr. Joseph Williams, one of the area’s top pediatricians at St. Helene’s Hospital. While still in residency, he married Mom. Her name is Julia Malory and she’s a Kindergarten teacher at Washington Elementary. They had yours truly and my two little brothers within a span of a few years. I, Olivia Grace, am thirteen and a half; Sam turned twelve back in July, and Jamie turned ten a week ago. My birthday’s at the end of May.
We’re taking a couple extra days off from school and driving to Gunther’s amazingly spectacular home, six hours away and up in the mountains. He never married and has no kids of his own, but he does some fostering here and there for hard to place cases. Not that he’d ever call them that. Man, his brown eyes glint red if you even suggest one of his kids is a “case” or that they’re trouble at all. He’s got some magic touch turning them back into kids and getting them settled wherever they belong.
Now, this house of his …. Gunther calls it a cabin, but it is truly colossal, with exterior log walls and massive amounts of windows. Inside, there are two stone fireplaces and heated wood floors. The bedrooms have bunks, though the area rugs are plush enough you could sleep on those just the same. There’s also a library, a game room, and a media room; the kitchen could be from a restaurant. Numerous patios and balconies overlook all the amazing views of the trees and distant lake.
At least, that’s what I hear. I get dizzy going up three floors in an elevator, so I don’t do much hanging over balconies or staring out of windows that show me how I could plunge to my death if the glass gave way.
You know, I’ve never known what Gunther does or if he has family around, but whenever we’re with him I feel like we fit right into his carefully molded world. He’s that easy to be with.
HREE HOURS INTO THE TRIP,
frozen rain has begun to splat against the car windows. Dad’s driving at the pace of a two-legged bug and the sky has become this non-color of whitish-gray. Snow will come next. The windshield wipers whir and scrape back and forth. I sigh and gaze over at Sam’s video game, but I watch too long and feel my stomach begin to roll. Jamie’s fallen asleep with his head lolling to the side, his drool teasing Sam’s shoulder.
Car trips are not an area in my life where I shine. I close my eyes again and lower the volume of my iPod just enough to hear the rounded sounds and cadences of my parents’ voices, but not enough to make out actual words. The SUV drones with a steady hum and I feel cocooned by the cushy seats and armor-like exterior.
When I wake up, my watch reads just after 4:30. It’s awfully dark already. I pull out my ear buds and Jamie’s wondering how much longer we have. I want to know the same thing, but I’m glad I wasn’t the first one to ask, being the oldest and all.
“Sweets,” Mom says, “we’ve got to go slow. We’re in a white-out and Dad’s doing what he can. We just have to sit tight till we make it over the pass. After that, we’ll be able to make our turn-off.”
Great. Because then come the switchbacks, the lack of any shoulder, and the sheer cliff drop down the right-hand side. Joy. If I didn’t love Gunther so much, I’d seriously consider demanding to be left right here on the side of the road, snowstorm or not.
“This is taking forever,” groans Jamie, shifting in his seat. “I can’t even look out my window ’cause I can’t see anything.”
almost impossible to see anything, with the snow doing the whole “warp speed ahead” thing in our headlights. In the low beams, the trees could dub as a forest from Narnia. It’s called a white-out for a reason. I’m pretty sure we should not be attempting to drive through it, but there’s nowhere to pull over. Who knows if someone’s behind us? Dad’s turned off the radio and I can tell he’s leaning forward, as if being five inches closer to the windshield is going to help him see better.
“What about a story?” Mom asks. About a million years ago, when I was almost three, she began to use car trips as a storytelling forum, to distract me from my impending hurl-fests. The stories should maybe seem dorky to us now that we’re older, but they’re not. We view them as a sport.
Mom calls them “Thunder Stories” and incorporates each of us kids into a Grand Adventure. We get to pick out a random animal or magical creature and she has to be able to fit them all into the storyline. Things can get kind of funny when she’s trying to piece together a badger, an octopus, and a fairy’s missing shadow. Somehow it always works out and the story flows like it’s something she’s read before.