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AUCHINMURN ISLE, WEST COAST OF SCOTLAND
TEN YEARS AGO
The battle for control of the Calder twins’ imaginations began on the afternoon of their third birthday. Sandie was enjoying the last slice of Jeannie’s double-decker chocolate cake when Malcolm raced into the kitchen.
“I’ve found it!” he said, waving a red leather journal in front of Sandie in feverish excitement. “Proof that Hollow Earth is real!”
Sandie’s fork clattered to her plate. “What?”
“It’s all in this diary! ‘The key must not be found’—but this is the exciting part. Listen to this.” Malcolm flipped to another. “ ‘After all that I have witnessed, after the horrors that have been revealed to me in Hollow Earth, I know this. The powers within are too terrible for man to control.’
“All these months of searching, and finally this!” He began to pace in front of the French doors. “With Matt and Em’s help, I—” He stopped, then turned and smiled at Sandie. “We will control Hollow Earth and then . . . everything will be ours.”
“You’re mad, Malcolm,” sputtered Sandie, dread creeping up her spine. “I don’t want everything.”
A part of Malcolm had always been wild—so focused on his own obsessions that he ignored the feelings and opinions of others. Sandie had hoped marriage would calm him, but since the birth of the twins, this obsession with Hollow Earth had been eating away the Malcolm she’d fallen in love with.
“I don’t care how you squander your powers or your life, but you can’t use the twins to further this madness!” she went on, her pulse quickening. “They’re too young, practically babies. Their powers are not yours to control.”
Malcolm gripped Sandie’s shoulders. She flinched. “I won’t be stopped by you or anyone else,” he said coldly. “To master Hollow Earth is my destiny.”
• • •
The next morning Sandie was glad of the chance to breakfast quietly with Renard while Malcolm played with the twins outside. But as she gazed out the window at the great glass sculpture in the abbey grounds, she noticed something strange.
The sculpture was a massive mobile of mirrors suspended from the trees at the western point of the grounds, shimmering and spinning in the changeable winds that ran along the island’s coastline. Matt and Em were sprawled under the installation on a blanket with their dad, painting. But what was reflected in the mirrors was not the cozy scene that it should have been.
Instead, each shard was reflecting the swirling greens, browns, and yellows of a mysterious cave mouth.
When the wind caught the mobile, the mirrored glass spun and Sandie saw the telltale glow of an animation. A stabbing awareness pierced her mind.
She recognized the image.
Lasers of light suddenly shot from the cave mouth, every fragment of mirror multiplying the effects, creating a crisscrossing grid of light encasing the trees, trapping Malcolm and the twins inside.
“Renard!” Sandie screamed. “Stop him!”
Renard Calder appeared at his daughter-in-law’s side. He stared in shock at the scene unfolding on the lawn.
“My God, what’s he doing?”
“I think he’s using the mirrors to increase the twins’ powers,” replied Sandie, her voice seared with panic. “Malcolm has Duncan Fox’s painting of the entrance to Hollow Earth, and the twins are animating it!”
“Impossible!” gasped Renard. “That painting is locked in the vault!”
“When have locks—or even you—managed to stop your son?”
She raced through the French doors and across the wide lawn toward the trees that had lit up as if candles burned from their branches. Renard was close behind her.
“Stop!” Sandie screamed at the grid of light surrounding her children. She jabbed her finger into one of the light beams, yelping and drawing back when a shock shot up her arm and exploded in a million red dots in her head.
Desperately searching for a way through the grid to reach the twins, she called out: “Mattie, Emmie! Come over here to Mummy!” Once. Twice. Each time louder and more insistently.
The twins never budged, never looked up, never stopped painting.
Malcolm was crouching next to them with his hands resting on their shoulders, his head close to their ears, whispering to them.
Renard pinched the bridge of his nose. “He’s inspiriting them. I can feel him . . . ”
“How could he?” Sandie raced up and down, frantically scanning the neon cage, searching for a way inside. “It’s against everything we stand for. Everything!”
Matt’s and Em’s tiny fingers were flying across their shared sketch pad. The gilt-framed painting of the cave mouth was propped next to them, beside another Fox painting of a scaly, hairless demon. Malcolm’s knuckles were turning white, his fists clenched on the twins’ slumped shoulders, holding them in place.
“What will his inspiriting do to them?” cried Sandie.
“I don’t know.” Renard’s face was white.
“Malcolm! Stop!” Sandie was crouching at the tree line, trying to catch Matt’s or Em’s attention, to break Malcolm’s spell. “Please! They’re too young. You’ll hurt them!”
The twins painted on, oblivious to the danger looming over them.
Malcolm slowly lifted his head. With eyes blazing, he looked over at Sandie, his handsome face contorted, his skin pale. Lifting his hand from Em’s shoulder, he held a finger to his lips.
For Sandie the next seconds unfolded in horrifying slow motion. Matt and Em put down their paintbrushes and took each other’s hands. They clambered to their feet, watching excitedly as the painting they’d been copying projected itself around them like a 3-D movie, wrapping them in thick, swirling brushstrokes of green, brown, and yellow. At first the twins giggled at the lines of color. But then the painting began to close in on them. They clung to each other, their expressions quickly transforming from delight to apprehension.
“Daddy! I don’t want to do this,” wailed Em.
“Make it stop,” cried Matt.
Fading into the churning colors, the twins disappeared completely.
Sandie screamed and charged toward the grid. On the shards of mirrors shifting in the wind, Matt’s and Em’s reflections appeared at the mouth of the animated cave.
“Go in! The key will be inside the cave. Bring it to me!” Malcolm shouted, shooing them inside with his hands.
“No!” Sandie shrieked.
She watched helplessly as the twins, tightly holding hands, vanished inside the cave. Malcolm’s eyes blazed in triumph. Sandie collapsed to the grass. Renard was frozen to the spot.
After five agonizing minutes, the twins scrambled empty-handed from the cave. They were both crying.
With a roar of frustration, Malcolm tore up the twins’ painting. The air seemed to open above the blanket, and the twins tumbled onto the grass among the fading lines of light.
Frantically gathering them up, Sandie wrapped her children in the blanket, cooing softly to them. Blood trickled from Matt’s nose. Em’s eyes were red-rimmed and unfocused. Neither of them spoke. They seemed to be in a trance.
“They’ll be fine in the morning,” said Malcolm, mussing Matt’s hair. “Disappointing, though. I was sure that painting was where he’d hidden the key. Maybe it’s in the other one.”
Renard pulled Sandie and the twins into his arms to comfort them. Malcolm began to laugh.
“You will eventually see things my way, Sandie,” he said. “Our children will be capable of extraordinary things when they fully come into their powers. We will find Hollow Earth together!”
Renard stared at the expression on his son’s face, and then at the still-blank faces of his grandchildren. “You will never inspirit or harm these children again as long as I live, Malcolm,” he said.
“You’re an old man, Dad.” Malcolm grinned. “I may not have long to wait.” Renard dropped his hands to his sides, sending a wave of energy toward his son and knocking Malcolm off his feet. Malcolm crashed to the ground, cutting his head, and let out a feral howl as Renard sliced into his thoughts. The older man’s eyes opened wide in anguish—and Malcolm pounced.
Renard pivoted in time to catch his son’s arm, twisting him into a headlock and bringing him to his knees. Snarling, Malcolm sank his teeth into Renard’s forearm, tearing at his flesh. The pain broke Renard’s concentration, allowing Malcolm to pull away from his father’s grip.
“These are my children,” screamed Malcolm. He wiped at the blood flowing from the cut on his head. “I will decide their fate. Not you and not her!”
“No you will not!” said Renard, slamming into Malcolm’s chest, knocking him against a tree. Malcolm’s eyes slid shut at the impact.
The exhausted twins were asleep, huddled in their mother’s arms. Renard lunged for the sketchbook. Holding his bloody arm over a blank page, he let his blood pool onto it.
“What are you doing?” cried Sandie.
“We must bind him. Right now,” said Renard, pushing the unconscious Malcolm’s hair from his forehead and letting the blood from the gash mingle with his own on the page.
Sandie laid the sleeping twins down and knelt in front of Renard, her hand on his. “We can’t. . . . The consequences if we’re discovered . . . They don’t bear thinking about.”
Renard lifted his eyes to Sandie’s. His shame and sadness for what he was about to do robbed Sandie of her breath.
“We must . . . we must . . .” Renard struggled for words. “When I tried to get into Malcolm’s head to calm him, I saw the most awful things. Demonic beings clawing up from the bowels of the earth, an army of rotting corpses lurching behind them. I saw beasts battling above the sea, their massive wings churning tidal waves beneath them. . . . ” He paused, handing the page to Sandie. “And I saw Matt and Em awash in their own blood. My son is a monster. He must be stopped. Do it before he wakes up!”
Malcolm groaned; his eyes fluttered. Sandie stared at the other Fox painting Malcolm had left on the blanket. The monster Malcolm had become deserved to be bound in a painting of a horrible, scaly demon. Seizing one of the twin’s paintbrushes, she cleaned it with shaking fingers, dipped it into the blood on the page, and began to copy the skinless monster.
Renard put his hand on her shoulder and closed his eyes. The wind picked up. The air smelled of seaweed and a hint of pine tar. The paintbrush felt hot. Sandie’s skin began to blister as she outlined the demon in Malcolm’s and Renard’s blood. Keeping the brush at the heart of the canvas, Sandie let Renard’s power surge through her animation.
The trees rustled. The waves slapped the shore. A ghostly silhouette coiled up from the page. It hovered above Malcolm’s head, tendrils snaking over him, embracing him, coating him in darkness. Malcolm slowly began to fade, his being absorbed into the animation, binding him in its form.
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