This is the first chapter I'm posting, although I'm not quite sure yet where it fits in with the chronology of the stories I'm writing. This is the beginning of a series that will feature these and other characters, so there's more character development and things to happen to them.

The following is a list of questions to prompt the kind of reviews I'm looking for. Don't bother trying to answer all of them, but if you could hit one or two per review, that would be nice.

1.) What can I do to make the heroine more interesting? Don't suggest making her darker, edgier or the like. I'm thinking of Raph from Greatest American Hero when I write her. How can I write a character like him, opinionated but gentle and kind, while avoiding the trap of making her a Mary Sue?

2.) How can I make the story flow better/be easier to read?

3.) What does the story leave you wanting to know about the characters?

4.) Does Matthew's behavior leave you concerned for his future? If not, what could he do that would, while still keeping him sympathetic? What could he do to make him lovable, but still leave you concerned?

5.) What did I do well in this story that you'd like to see continue?

6.) Any other comments, compliments or correction you'd like to offer.

The story begins.

Her desk hardly contained enough room to write. There were textbooks stacked on one side, on the other was a stack of novels she'd been meaning to read, some for a few months, some for several years. They'd finished unpacking a few days ago, but she'd taken the few books she hadn't read yet off of her bookshelf and put them on her desk in the hopes of getting to them soon.

It had worked. All of the books were by American of English authors, so either way they helped to stave off the culture shock of living in a new place. She'd taken to carrying a book around in her backpack to read whenever she got some spare time at school. Perhaps, she though, she should have been putting more effort into things like making friends, but it felt like she needed some time to adapt before plunging straight into that.

All of her classmates had been kind enough. She was the first human many of them had ever seen. They all introduce themselves by their English names, which is so kind of them. She didn't think she could remember all their Elvish names. She'd get them down one day, but for now...

Elves all have two names, a given name and a family name. They used to not bother with given names, all of them going by family names and referring to their place in the family when it was necessary to specify. Rak-thule the father, Rak-thule the mother, Rak-thule the first son, Rak-thule the second daughter, etcetera. But when the English came over and tried to settle the land, the elves adopted English names for their benefit.

They tried to take over, the English. Like they did in America. It didn't work out too well. "These foreign witches say they won't have no truck with this 'being hung' business," some poor man was quoted as saying in Laura's history book. "And these vampires just won't stand still and get staked. Don't run from our crucifixes or nothing, neither."

Winsoria. Elf Land, some called it. Her new home. What a strange place to be.

She stared at the pages of her journal. Journal, not diary. Diaries are for drooling over cute boys and babbling about fashion. Journals are for thinking about the day's events, trying to understand their significance and learn whatever it is God wants you to learn from them. And drooling over cute boys now and then.

She thought about the day she'd just had. After a few moments, she began to write.

Oh, what a day it had been.

The storm had caught them completely by surprise. One minute the sky had been clear, then clouds gathered as they walked, then it was pouring like no rain she'd ever seen before. Was this typical whether for Winsoria? She could ask Matthew, but she doubted he'd answer.

She sincerely hoped he could see where he was going. Maybe elves could see through thick rain and darkness. Weren't elves supposed to be superior to humans in every regard? Faster, smarter, more agile, longer living, with better temperaments—although that last one certainly wasn't the case for Matthew. The new Matthew, anyway.

She sincerely hoped he wasn't going to get them lost, or hit by a car. Not that she thought he intended to. Or did he? She had no idea. Yesterday she thought she had some understanding who this boy was, thought he was someone she could like and trust. Today? Now that his hand was clasped tight around her wrist as he led her through the streets of an unfamiliar town in an unfamiliar country? It would have been a good time to be sure she could trust him. But she wasn't.

So why was she letting him lead her? Was she simply too timid to say no, even given circumstances like these? Or did she simply want so bad for him to be someone she could trust that she was going to follow him wherever he led her and see how it turned out? Besides, she had a can of mace in her purse, if all else failed.

Everyone knows that stories aren't supposed to begin on nights that are dark and stormy. Unfortunately, the weather doesn't have as good of sense of what is dramatically appropriate as I do. If I were creating a fictional account, I would never begin it on a dark and stormy night. However, my job is to present you the facts as they were presented to me, and anyways, it worked for A Wrinkle In Time. And thus it begins:

It was a dark and stormy night. Trouble was brewing, and he wasn't happy about it.

There are three ways to prepare wolfsbane. One designed to cure a werewolf who had recently been bitten. The second was to incapacitate or kill an adult werewolf. The third was as a seasoning, usually for lambchop. Trouble was making a wolfsbane potion, weapons grade stuff, the kind that could knock out your average werewolf with only a few drops. Somebody was getting himself into some serious trouble, and Trouble was getting himself into some serious money.

If he went through with it, that is.

He didn't like this kind of job, but the client had a license to carry this stuff, and he had claimed it was for self defense.

The client had also entered the shop wearing a red riding jacket, hood and all, with the silver handle of a knife that was clearly not designed for cooking sticking out of a sheath hanging on his belt. Trouble was willing to bet that if he looked through the pockets of the coat, he'd find a gun in one pocket and a handful of bullets that looked suspiciously unlike lead.

Nice people did not wear anything with a red hood, ever since that serial killer a few years back who decided to take out as many werewolves as she could before the police could stop her. Ten perfectly good men killed.

Self defense! What a ridiculous way to ease his conscience. If someone took this much wolfsbane, marched into the middle of a clearly marked territory of a pack they just happened to have a grudge against, attacked one of their members and opened the container just as the poor things would invariably attack, wasn't that "self defense?"

He'd asked me what I thought he should do. It really wasn't my place to counsel him, I'd said, but in the end, I knew he'd make the right choice.

He sat reading a book, something large and heavy with a leather binding and decorated with symbols to make it look magical. Perhaps they did something to protect the book, or help the reader understand it, but I wouldn't know. He was trying to distract his thoughts while the potion boiled.

He wore his labcoat and glasses, same as he always wears, except when he doesn't.

A bell jingled as the to door to Trouble's shop opened, and in walked an elvish boy and a human girl in their mid-to-late teens. The boy was upset, the girl was confused and perhaps a bit afraid; it was written on their faces.

The boy wore black jeans, a white t-shirt and a black faux leather jacket, worn with age and lack of care. Trouble and I knew him, his name was Matthew Fardel. Trouble used to be friends with his father, before the whole family became cut off from the rest of the world with the death of Matthew's younger brother.

Neither of us recognized the girl, but she wore pink. What I know about women's clothing is about as much as I know about, well, anything these days. The were modest, and pink. Also, they were drenched from the rain, as was Matthew. I wondered if this girl usually wore that much pink, or if it had simply been a while since she'd done laundry.

Matthew didn't waste any time. He walked right up to Trouble, and past him, towards the door to the back room, speaking as he went.

"We need to talk," he said, looking past us and at the door. "Alone." He grabbed Trouble's arm and pulled him along. Trouble followed, stopping to grab me off of my space on the shelf.

"Hold on a second," he said. "Miss, can I get you something? A jacket, a towel, a blanket?"

"Uh, no. No. No, I'll just sit next to this fire, thanks. Do—do you mind if this chair gets wet?"

"Go ahead. And if that potion turns green before I get back, would you please stir it five times clockwise?"

"Yeah, yes. Of course."

Trouble turned to face the door, where Matthew had stopped walking. He knew that only one person could unlock that door. Trouble put a hand on it, closed his eyes for a moment and concentrated. The door swung open.

We went through.

The back room was empty except for a table, five chairs, a small shelf from which I could have a good view of the room and a ladder, leading up to a hallway that in turn led to a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a bathroom. Everything in it was made of wood, including the walls, ceiling and floor. Each piece was stained a different shade of brown, so that each chair, each wall, the table, ceiling, shelf and floor were all different colors.

I kept telling him to get some carpet and make the room more uniform so it wouldn't feel like you'd wandered into a world designed by interior decorators who had all gone mad after reading one too many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore and started imagining a raven was telling them how to do their jobs, but he said that if that were the case, they'd all be stained with the blood of children and innocents, and anyway, sometimes it paid to have people think you were crazy.

"Are you going to offer me anything?" Matthew asked, taking a seat.

"Do you want anything?"

"No," he said which Trouble knew well enough meant "I don't want anything specific, but any act of kindness would be appreciated," even if Matthew himself didn't realize it.

"Alright. I'll be right back."

Trouble left me on the shelf, went up the ladder, and came back down a few moments later with a big, thick blanket and two cups of hot chocolate. Coffee wouldn't have been too useful. Coffee gives people energy, hot chocolate makes them happy.

Matthew wrapped himself in the blanket Trouble offered, and took the cup in his hands, but didn't drink it.

"This girl," Matthew said, "I don't know her name, says she knows me."

"Does she?"

"Would I be saying she said she did if she did?"

"Do you know what would make her think she does?"

"She said hi to me yesterday, I told her to scram, she left. Showed up today acting like we were best friends."

"Why does that bother you? Do you not want to be friends with her?"

"This isn't about that." His eyes slid away from Trouble as he talked, and wound up looking down into his hot chocolate. He looked back up at Trouble. "She says she knows Erick. That I introduced them. Yesterday."

Erick Fardel, Matthew's little brother. The one who'd been dead for two years, who had hardly been six years old.

"Interesting. ... Why did you chase her off when she tried to talk to you yesterday?"

"I was in the park, watching the playground where he used to play. I've been thinking about him a lot lately. It's that time of year." Trouble didn't have to ask—the anniversary of Erick's death was next week.
"What happened to your family after you lost him?"

"You trying that shrink stuff you do on me?"

"Yes. But if it makes you feel any better, I promise you my motives are entirely selfish."

Matthew was silent.

"You brought her here for a reason. What do you want from me?"

"I want you to find out why she thinks she knows Erick. Then, I'll probably want you to get her to leave me alone."

"You know what you have to do if you want my help."

"Can't I just pay for it? Buy your help?"

"That's not why I'm in this business."

"It's the way most shopkeepers work."

"What happened to your family after you lost Erick?"

Matthew scowled, but after a moment relaxed his face with a sigh, defeated.

"Dad started drinking. Really drinking. Stopped going to work. I mean, we had some problems before, but Erick's death is what tipped the scale. Why do you want to know all this stuff? You looking for something to blackmail us with?"

"I'm trying to understand you, Matthew. If you don't like that, I'm sure you can find someone else to help you, or make do on your own. Where did that bruise on your cheek come from?"

"Fell down the stairs," he answered far too quickly.

"Has your father been beating you?"

"No!" He snapped, again, far too quickly. "My father... He drinks too much, and he's gotten lazy, but... But he's not a monster. Don't think about him like that, because he's not." But it was himself that Matthew was trying to convince more than Trouble.

Trouble added "Call the guardsmen with an anonymous tip" to his mental to-do list, just in case.

"How has your mother been doing?"


"Does she leave the house much?"

"Gets groceries. Goes to worship when a member of the Pantheon's in town, especially Driesdus. I think she has a crush on him. Goes to some yoga classes. That's about it."

"What have you been doing since you lost Erick?"

"Not much. Hanging out with friends. Going to school. Parties. Living life."

"Living, or surviving?"

"Surviving," he admitted.

"How's school going?"

"They've got me in a class with a bunch of idiots. Teacher thinks he's the next Ralph Hinckley. Hunckley. Whatever that guy's name was. Half the time it feels like it's not worth going, but it gets me away from my dad."

"What do you plan on doing after high school?"

"I don't know. Get a job, if I can find any. Move out. Survive."

"You think surviving is the best you can do?"

Matthew gave a dry laugh. "Sometimes I'm not even sure I can manage that."

"Why do you want this girl to leave you alone?"

"She doesn't seem my type."

"And how do you know that?"

"I have enough friends. I want to be alone." And Trouble couldn't help but notice that his question had gone unanswered.

Trouble thought for a moment. He looked at Matthew's tight jeans, the way he slouched forward in his seat, the bags under his eyes. He thought about the way Matthew's father spoke of him, on the rare occasion they still spoke. He thought he understood the real reason Matthew didn't want to get to know this girl, but he'd have to talk to her himself to find out. He decided not to say anything until he was sure.

"Alright. I know what I need to. Send her in, and wait outside."

Matthew left, and a few seconds later the girl entered.

"You... You wanted to speak with me?" she asked shyly.

"I did. There's no fire in here. May I get you something to keep warm?"

"Yes, um... Yeah, a blanket. A blanket would be nice, thank you."

Trouble went back up the ladder, and came down later with a blanket and an other cup.

She wrapped up in the blanket and took the cup.

"What is this?"

"Hot chocolate."

She took a long sip. She smiled and relaxed.

"Thank you so much," she said. "I needed that. Especially today. ... Matthew told me your name was Trouble?" Her timidity was beginning to melt away.

"I am Trouble. I can be all kinds of Trouble, but I prefer to be the fun kind. And your name?"

"It's Laura."

"Well, Laura, it's good to meet you. How's the potion I left you watching?"

"It started bubbling, then it turned green, and I stirred it just like you told me to."

"Perfect. Then it should just have to boil for a few hours. Matthew tells me you walked up to him this afternoon, claiming to know him and his little brother, despite that to the best of his recollection, you two are not friends and have never had a complete conversation in your lives. I'd like to hear your side of the story."

"That is not... I don't know what to say, that is not what happened. I mean, I... I hate this about living in Winsoria. I never know when somebody's pulling a bad prank on me, or if there's some evil sorcerer running around or... what. I don't know. I mean, I love Winsoria. It's a great place, the people are friendly, the magic glows in cool colors and stuff. But this is just too weird."

"Start at the beginning. Tell me about yourself."

"Well, I... I'm new to Winsoria. You can probably tell by my accent that I'm not from around here. A lot of people can. ... I've only lived here a few weeks, actually. Two. So there's still some pretty massive culture shock going on. I'm from America. I've lived there all my life, till a big law firm offered my dad a job here in Goldcrest. Dad had been out of a job so long, and the pay was so good... We didn't have much choice but to accept and come on over."

"How are you feeling about the move?"

"I... well, I don't see how that's relevant. I mean..."

"Look, you're new to town and Matthew probably didn't bother to explain anything, so I'll tell you how this works. People come to me with problems. They tell me what I want to know. I make things better. You want my help. You need my help. You tell me what I want to know. You get my help. How are you feeling about the move?"

"Why do you need to know that?"

"I have my reasons."

"I'm fine."

"I need honesty here, Laura."

"I'm FINE, I'm... Fine. Alright. You want the truth, I'm feeling really stressed about it. I've lived in the same country for seventeen years. And then all of a sudden I'm halfway across the world. I miss my friends, I miss my school and my job. I know my family needs the money, and I don't blame my parents. I know I can get used to life here in Winsoria. And I will. But for now I'm upset." Tears were beginning to well up in her eyes. "And I think I may be for a while."

"Do you have plans to become a Winsorian citizen?"

"I will. I will in a few months. My dad kind of has to be one to practice law here, and my mom and siblings want to follow suit to support him."

"You'll be able to start calling it Elf Land then, like the rest of us."

She gave a small chuckle and wiped back her tears.

"Thank you."

"Is this your first time moving?"

"Second. We moved from Wyoming to Georgia when I was seven. I'd never left America before in my life. Well, I went to Canada once on a family trip, but that hardly counts. America is just Canada's evil twin."

She took a breath, a deep breath, gathered her resolve, and plowed on.

"The worst part about it—the move—is that... I think, I thought, sorry, that I'd finally found a friend who goes to my school, a person to give me some sense of stability, and I go back to see him the next day and he's a completely d-different person. And I don't know what to do."

"I'm sorry. Do you need a minute to calm down?"

She took another sip of the hot chocolate, longer this time.

"I'll be okay."

"How did you meet Matthew, then?"

She gave a brief laugh, almost a scoff.

"Now there's a loaded question." She looked up, in thought, then continued after a moment. "It was yesterday, after school. My dad wasn't going to be back from work until later, and Mom was out grocery shopping, so I biked around town looking for a place to do some homework and hang out. I didn't feel like going home to an empty house.

"So I found this park. Nice place. I sat down on this bench, and there was a little children's playground not far off. I was reading my history book, and I fell asleep. Winsorian history. It's fascinating, it really is, it just... I don't know, stress?

"Anyway, when I woke up there was this jacket covering me. Cheep one, faux leather. I sit up, and there's this guy, and he's..." She started to blush, but it was a blush with a smile. "I mean he's, um, I..."

Trouble couldn't help himself. He laughed. He didn't want to hurt the poor girl's feelings, but he laughed.

"It's okay, Laura, I get it. You want his body. Got it."

"Ah, I mean, uh... I wouldn't say it quite like... I mean..." She sighed. "Yeah, that's about it."

"Is this why you want to be friends with him? Because you find him attractive?"

"I... I hope not. I mean, to be honest, that is part of my reason. I really think it is. I don't want it to be. I don't want to be that superficial. I hope that's not the real reason, or the main reason. I hope I just want to have a friend, a friend who's a nice person."

"Alright. Is that all there is to it?"

"... … I... I really like to be liked. To have friends, people who I can feel care about me. So when I saw Matthew, this new Matthew, not the one from yesterday, if that makes any sense, and he didn't enjoy being around me, my first thought was 'This should not be happening, situation must be remedied.'"

"How is it that with that attitude you've lived here two weeks and haven't yet made any friends?"

"I'm shy. That's about all there is to it. When I knock on a door, I try to do it loud enough to be heard, but it always comes out soft and week."

"Go on with the story."

"I handed him the jacket and asked if it was his, and he said yes—actually he says 'I was hoping I'd be able to come up with something clever to say by the time you woke up. But the best I've got so far is "yes.'" And I told him it was worth a shot. I told him my name and he told me his. Mathew. He spotted my accent, and got that I was American in three guesses.

"And we sat there chatting. Nothing too profound, just getting to know each other. He was there watching his little brother while he played on the playground. He goes to my school—Mathew, not Erick. Erick, that's his little brother. We don't have any classes together, but we go to lunch at the same time. He likes board games, just like me. And basketball. We both like basketball.

"And then it started getting dark. I don't know what time it was when I woke up, or how long we'd been talking, but it felt like—I knew it had been a while—but it felt like no time had passed at all. So he had to go home, and so did I. His parents wouldn't want Erick being out late, and my parents were probably home, so I had to go see them. But we promised to see each other the next day, same spot.

"I went home. Did some homework, had some dinner with my family. Told them I'd met a guy, got teased mercilessly. Told them it wasn't like that, got teased anyway."

"What kind of teasing did they put you through?"

"Oh, not that much, really. They saw me smiling, asked what it was about. I told them, like I said, and my parents were worse than my siblings. Mom said 'Aww! My baby's growing up!' I said 'No, he's just a friend,' and Dad said... I don't remember exactly, but something about how wide I was smiling and how that was the same way Mom looked at him when they were falling in love. Just parents being mean, for kicks and giggles. You know."

"Yeah, I do."

"Are you a father, Trouble?"

"No. Not yet."

Laura nodded.

"Haven't found the right woman?"

"Something like that."

"So then what happened?"

"I went to bed. Woke up the next morning—today. Went to school, looked for Mathew in the halls on the way to class. Didn't see him till lunch time. I... At first it didn't register that it was him I was seeing. I just didn't recognize him. His eyes were sunken in, with dark bags under them, like he hadn't been sleeping or eating well. He was hunched over slouching, scowling at everything and when I waved at him from across the room, he didn't wave back. He looked at me, his scowl seemed to deepen, then he looked away. He was wearing the same jacket, but it looked older, more warn. Couldn't be the boy I met just yesterday.

"So after school, I went back to the park. There he was, exactly as I'd seen him at lunch, exactly like you saw him when he came in here. Tired, unhealthy, angry and sad. He was smoking too. I hadn't guessed that'd be the sort of thing he'd do. The playground was empty. The bench was empty too, but he was sitting on the ground anyway, watching the playground. He didn't look away from it as I approached."

"What did all this make you think? What was your first thought when you saw him looking all unhealthy and only making it worse?"

"My first thought was that something horrible must have happened. No idea what. The more I think about it, though... This was not the sort of thing that happens in less than a day. I mean, yes, maybe I just hadn't seen him smoking yesterday and assumed he didn't do it, but he looked like death."

"Oh, have you met him?"

"What? Who?"

"Never mind. Keep going."

"As a second thought, I thought it might have been his evil twin or something."

"A reasonable assumption."

"I'm new around here. You have to tell me if you're being sarcastic."

"Of course I am. Probably. Well, maybe not twin, but dopleganger, robot duplicate, stuff like that happens."

"... So I saw him smoking and I guess this is my upbringing, 'cause I think 'he shouldn't be smoking. Smoking is bad, and Mathew is good, so this just doesn't match up.' So I said 'Doesn't Winsoria have a legal smoking age? Twenty-one or something?' And he looked at me like I'd just insulted his mom and said 'I don't see how that's any of your business. Didn't I tell you to scram yesterday?' That's not all he said, but there were a couple of words I didn't want to repeat in there. And I've got this habit that whenever someone acts mad at me and I don't know why, I assume they're kidding. It's gotten me into more trouble than out of it. I should probably stop doing that. So I came up with some sarcastic answer that he really didn't appreciate. He just looked away from me and...

"No. Details. You know how this works. What did you say?"

"I told him I wasn't really the type to scram when someone tells me to. I said I was more the type to stick around where I wasn't wanted and stir up trouble."

"I like that answer," Trouble commented.

"Well, I'm not exactly sure that's true. It just sounded good, you know? I think if I'd honestly thought he was mad at me I'd back off, give him some time, then make sure to patch things up later, maybe with cookies. I just really want people to like me."

"How did Matthew react when you said your line about stirring up trouble?"

"Well, he didn't, not really. He just turned away from me and went back to staring at that playground. So... I was trying to break the ice, you know, get a conversation started... And thats where things got really weird."

"You mean interesting. Juicy."

"Not the word I would have used."

"That's okay, I did it for you. What happened?"

"I asked him 'How's Eric?' So he turned and looked at me and asked if I was stalking him or something. I didn't know what he was talking about, and I didn't know what kind of answer he was looking for, so I said 'No.' I'm pretty sure that wasn't the answer he was looking for, but I doubt he would have been too happy if I said yes, either. He asks how I know about Erick. I tell him the truth, I say he introduced me yesterday. He tilted his head sideways like he was trying to understand me from a different angle. Then he said 'We need to go see Trouble.' And then we came here. He wouldn't say anything else to me."

"So that's all you know."


"What did you learn about Matthew the first time you saw him?"

"It sounds like you believe me, the way you ask that question."

"It could happen."

"What could happen? What in the world happened?"

"I'm not sure. There's a few possibilities, but we'll get to that later. What did you learn about Matthew yesterday?"

"Nice guy. Gentle. Loved his little brother. That jacket—it looked better than it does now, but there were still a couple of marks, like he'd gone running in it, through the woods maybe. Like it had seen some fun."

Trouble nodded, and leaned back for a moment in thought. Only a moment, though, and a very brief one at that. Thinking was something he was good at, and he could do it very fast.

"I'll be back in a minute."

He went out and came back with a small cauldron—about the size of a basketball—a stand to put it on, a Bunsen burner to put under it, a few ingredients in small jars, bottles and vials, and a long, thin stick of wood.

"Stick this under your tongue," he said, handing her the stick.

"I'm not sick!"

"It's not a thermometer."

"Well, what is it then?"

"What does it look like?"

"Looks like a magic wand."

"So what do you think it is then?"

"Is it a magic wand?"

"Ding ding ding, we have a winner!" He made a flourishing motion with the wand and bowed dramatically before handing it to her again. "Now stick it under your tongue."

She did. Trouble watched his watch for a few moments, then took the wand back from her. He poured a few vials into the cauldron, left again and came back with a pitcher of water, poured that in as well, then lit the Bunsen burner. He stirred the mixture with the wand.

I couldn't even begin to guess what Trouble was expecting to happen. I've never been that good with magic. Trouble's a good friend of mine, but hearing him talk about magic (and talk he can, for hours on end) bores me out of my skull. Pun not intended.

Whatever Trouble was expecting to happen, didn't. He frowned.

"That's funny, I could have sworn..." An expression of realization came over his face. He left again, came back with an oven mit and took the cauldron away. He came back with it, now rinsed out, and mixed in a new combination of ingredients. He mixed them with the wand again, and yet again got absolutely no reaction. He gave a frustrated growl.

"May I ask what you're trying to do?" Laura asked.

"You may," Trouble said, "but it's probably not worth the time it would take to answer. Have you taken any classes in magic yet?"

"I have taken two weeks of magic classes."

"There, it's not worth it. To be simple, I'm just trying to make some kind of sense of your story. I want to believe you, but I can't see how..." he left again, this time at a run, and came back with a small, blue, glass ball. "Catch this."

He tossed it at her. She caught it, and within an instant it had turned dark red.

"Wow," he whispered, awestruck, "that's impressive. Oh, you are something else girl, you are something else."

"What's this mean?" she asked, holding up the ball.

"It's your temporal whatsit... Signature. Kind of. You're temporal signature. No, maybe fingerprint would be the right word. You're temporally out of sync with the rest of the universe. You wouldn't have noticed while you were in America, unless somebody did something big like kill Hitler or something. Oh, you poor girl."

"What's going on?'

"Some time between when you left Matthew and meeting him again the next day, somebody did something very stupid, and very against the law. They traveled back in time, probably trying to fix something they thought went wrong in their personal history. I'm hoping that it was by some freak accident that their actions wound up killing Erik."

"You're talking about time travel."

"It probably sounds crazy to an American. Stuff you've only heard about in fiction. But it exists, and it's just as dangerous as the movies make it look. More so, probably. That's why it's illegal."

"No, trust me, you can't find out much about this place from America, but I know weird stuff happens here. So, I remember the first time I met him the way it was supposed to be because of that 'temporally out of sync' thing you talked about."


"So what do we do?"

"Tell the city guardsmen, of course. They'll have noticed the temporal disturbance last night, but any information we can provide might help lead to the arrest."

"Do we tell Matthew?"

Trouble's face grew very serious.

"What do you think he'd do if we did?"

Laura had to think about it. Then, finally:

"I'm not sure."

Trouble let her think for a minute. She looked at him, his expression unreadable, then closed her eyes and, said a quick prayer in her mind. She opened her eyes and said:

"But it wouldn't really be right to keep it secret from him, would it?"

"Why not?"

"It's his brother. Doesn't he have a right to know what happened to him?"

"And if he decides to do something drastic?"

"Do you think he will?"

"I'm not sure."

"That's his choice, and I hope he learns his lesson from it. He has the right to know the truth, and decide how to react to it."

"I hope that works out well."
"Me too."

"Losing a brother... I mean, it hurts, but it doesn't take a healthy, functional teenage boy and lead to him giving up on himself."

"There has to be more to it than that, you're right. But it seems that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Like there was a lot of stress going on in his life, but having Erick with him helped him cope."

"So what can I do?"

"Well, like I said, report what happened to the guardsmen. They'll have noticed an unauthorized temporal disturbance last night, and they'll be looking for any information they can on the subject. Who knows how long it'll take them to catch the guy, though, not to mention to undo the changes he made. Or even if they'll catch him."

"So what do I do while I'm waiting for the cops to catch a guy they may never catch?"

Trouble shrugged.

"Why have you got to do anything? It's not your problem. Let him live his life the way he wants to live it, go on your merry way and maybe catch back up with him when the problem's resolved."

"I don't think... I don't think he is living the way he wants to. He just seems so sad. I think he'd rather be—I mean, I don't know him very well, but I think he'd really rather be that happy, kind boy I met yesterday. I know I don't know that much about him anymore, but I still want to try and be his friend. Try to help him deal with what he's about to find out."

Trouble watched as she was talking with a stern expression. When she finished, he broke into a grin and nodded.

"Good. Thank you. You're right, he needs someone like you. Now, let's get out there, I know what we're going to do."

Trouble picked me up off the shelf and carried me out of the room. Laura followed us.

Matthew was sitting in the same chair where Laura had been, hunched over and wrapped up in his blanket by the fire. An air of bleakness and tiredness radiated off of him, it could be read in his expression, his posture, everything about him. He looked up at us as we came out.


Trouble put me back in my place on the shelf.

"I know why you didn't want to talk to her. Why she makes you so angry. She's too wholesome for you. You look at the way she's dressed, the way she talks, the way she smiles even though she's worried. She's gentle, wholesome, tame, and kind. But you're not afraid she'll be boring or annoying. No, she reminds you of the person you used to be. She reminds you of all the bad choices you made when you could have made the right ones, all your shame and guilt. She has what you want, and that's why you're angry. You need more friends like her, you need to be more like her."

Trouble turned to Laura.

"You need more friends like him. You lack confidence, confidence that he has. He tells people what he's thinking, how he's feeling, without worrying about how they'll react. You stutter, mumble, get flustered and try to hide things so people won't think badly of you. You need to learn his virtues just as much as he needs to learn yours."

Back to Matthew.

"I know you don't want to hear what I just said. But think about who I am, what I've done for for your country, for your family and for you personally, and you'll remember that your debt to me is far to great for you to ignore. And it's about to get a lot steeper."

He told Matthew what he and Laura had learned about Erick. Matthew's face remained hard. When Trouble was done, he said:

"Don't you dare be lying to me. Don't you dare tell me—" his voice caught in his throat. "Don't you dare tell me that there is a way to have my brother back, not just back, but like he'd never left, if it's not true. Don't you dare. If we go to the guardsmen, and they tell me there was no temporal disturbance last night, I will come back here and I will kill you. With something very painful. With a spoon, with a rusty, dull spoon."

Trouble pulled a set of keys out of his pocket, and held up his car key.

"Don't bother coming back," he said. "I'll be with you. I'll take you there now."

The guardsmen asked question after question, getting all the facts straight. The asked Matthew about his family, about how things were before Erick died, and how they were today. Did the family have any enemies who might want to harm Erick, or hurt his parents, or Matthew? Did the family have any friends that Matthew felt uncomfortable around, like they might have been enemies in the other time line? Was there anyone who might want his parents to separate? Did Erick have any enemies? Yes, we're aware he was six, but stranger things have happened.

No, no, you mean other than Matthew himself, so that he could go live with his mom alone? No, and no.

They asked for Laura all she knew about the other time line, which wasn't much. Enough to write an episode of the Twilight Zone, but nothing more than that.

Not that any of this was likely to be useful in the new time line. All of this information had a slim chance of being helpful, but a chance nonetheless.

That's the problem with crimes involving time travel. It's so much harder to pin down the motive. The criminal goes back to before he had the motive, commits the crime, comes back to the present and reaps the benefits. If there was such a thing as a perfect crime, this would be it.

Further complicating it was the fact that, as Trouble had said, the criminal probably hadn't gone back in time with the intention of killing Erick in the first place, and thus probably didn't realize they'd done it. More likely than not, it was just one of the side effects of whatever change had been made.

They asked Trouble for any evidence, any thoughts, any leads he might provide. He told them that the time travel had either been done with a spell or a machine. Psychic time travel would have left Laura with a memory of both time lines and a splitting headache. The guardsmen could've easily worked that out for themselves, of course, but without more information there was nothing more Trouble could provide. Except of course to mention his suspicions about Matthew's father, and about a certain red-hooded customer of his.

As they were leaving the Guardmens' office, Laura started the conversation back up with Matthew.

"Trouble says we're supposed to be friends."

"Yes, he does."

"Are you still a fan of the game Ticket to Ride?"


"You were when I met you yesterday."

Matthew stared blankly at her until she decided to break the silence.

"I'm trying to get a group of people together to meet for games every now and then. I've already got one friend from my church signed up, and he has a friend who'd be willing to come, but three people doesn't make for some very fun gaming. We're meeting at my house on Friday. Ticket to Ride is one of the games we'll be playing."

Another pause. Did he really want to be her friend, he wondered? It was worth a shot.

"I prefer Space Hulk."

"I prefer not dying gruesomely every time I draw a random encounter."

"That's half the fun."

"So you're coming?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I guess. Haven't got anything else to do."

Laura clapped her hands and squealed with joy. She actually squealed, in that high pitched, gleeful way that writers, for some reason, think girls squeal but that they really didn't, in Matthew's experience. He didn't know what to say.

"I'll meet you at the main door of the school after classes on Friday," Laura said. "You're going to love it! There'll be soda and junk food and and people and dice of various shapes and sizes and it'll be great."

Matthew didn't know what had happened to the girl he'd been talking to a few minutes ago. One moment she'd been subdued and solemn, the next this. He didn't like it. Maybe it was the timing more than anything else.

A minute later, she yawned and closed her eyes, and almost fell asleep in mid step.

That explained it, he thought. Sleep deprivation.

She closed the journal, her hand beginning to cramp from the continuous writing. She dropped the pen and flexed her hand a few times to try and relax it. It helped some. She glanced at her clock. Just after 22h00. What a pain it was shifting over to military time for everything, but that was the way the Winsorians did things. It wasn't that hard, anyway.

She switched her desk lamp off. The house was dark, which would have been frightening a few days ago, but she was getting used to the new house and today all it served to do was remind her how tired she was.

She knelt down beside her bed and said her prayers. She remembered to ask God to bless Matthew and his family. She finished praying and curled up into her bed.

Oh, what a day it had been.