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by Jake Halpern, Peter Kujawinski

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The dark will bring your worst nightmares to light in this gripping and eerie survival story, perfect for fans of James Dashner and Neil Gaiman.

On Marin’s island, sunrise doesn’t come every twenty-four hours—it comes every twenty-eight years. Now the sun is just a sliver of light on the horizon. The weather is turning cold and the shadows are growing long.

Because sunset triggers the tide to roll out hundreds of miles, the islanders are frantically preparing to sail south, where they will wait out the long Night.

Marin and her twin brother, Kana, help their anxious parents ready the house for departure. Locks must be taken off doors. Furniture must be arranged. Tables must be set. The rituals are puzzling—bizarre, even—but none of the adults in town will discuss why it has to be done this way.

Just as the ships are about to sail, a teenage boy goes missing—the twins’ friend Line. Marin and  Kana are the only ones who know the truth about where Line’s gone, and the only way to rescue him is by doing it themselves. But Night is falling. Their island is changing.

And it may already be too late.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780698405561
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/22/2015
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 985,987
Lexile: 690L (what's this?)
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Jake Halpern is an acclaimed journalist, author, and radio producer who has written for several publications including The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine.  As a contributor at NPR, Jake produced one of the most listened-to episodes of This American Life. He co-wrote the Dormia series with Peter Kujawinski and is the author of Bad Paper, a nonfiction book for adults. 

For eighteen years, Peter Kujawinski was an American diplomat, on assignment in places like Israel, Haiti and France and at the United Nations in New York.  Most recently, he was the U.S. Consul General in western Canada, which included Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories.  While working as a diplomat, he started to write for adults and children.  He has contributed to the international edition of the New York Times, and with co-author Jake Halpern, Peter wrote the Dormia trilogy (DormiaWorld's End and Shadow Tree).  He lives in Chicago with his family.

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2015 Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski



MARIN WALKED INTO  THE WIND  AND  FELT IT  GENTLY   PUSH back. A few more steps and she’d be at the edge of the cliff. Her focus was on the thistle, the prickly green plants that crunched beneath her feet. What  would  happen to these  plants  during the  years  of Night?  Would  they  wither and  die,  or  would they simply lie dormant, waiting  for the first rays of sunlight to peek up from  the  horizon?  She had  asked  those  who  had been through this before, but they refused to discuss it. No one talked about the Night, even though it was almost upon them.

She stopped near the precipice. The water below was dark, almost black, and it stretched everywhere, like a liquid version of the sky. In the last year, as the sun had begun  its final de- scent, the water  had gone from blue-green to iridescent blue, and from there it grew steadily darker. A hint of its fluorescence remained, but now it provoked  a shiver instead of a smile.

Marin took a deep breath of the cold sea air. When  the sun vanished, it would get even colder. Everything would freeze—at least that’s what people at school said. In any case, by the time that happened, she’d be long gone, along with everyone  else in Bliss. Only the buildings  would  remain,  silent  and empty, en- tombed in ice.

The wind flung Marin’s wavy black hair into her face. She was  smaller  than  other  girls  her  age, but  she  was  stronger than most. Her arms and legs were long and well-muscled, the product of years spent  climbing,  hiking, and sailing. She had honey-colored eyes, long lashes,  and  bronze  skin—a striking combination, which she inherited from her mother. Her cloth- ing, however,  was plain and purely  functional: waxed  canvas pants, a raw denim shirt, and leather boots.

“Has the tide turned yet?”

Marin spun at the unexpected voice. She had been waiting for her friend Line, but instead she saw Palan—a frail man with paper-thin skin and a bald head marked  with brown sunspots. Palan had lived through several Mornings and his skin bore the proof. His cobalt-blue robe rippled in the wind, revealing a left arm that ended in a stump just above his wrist.

“I’m not sure about the tide,” Marin replied.  “What do you think?”

The old man faced Marin, his watery eyes looking past her, into the distance.  “This is my fourth  Evening,” he said quietly. He tightened the heavy wool scarf wrapped around his neck. “The sun seems to be moving faster and faster with the years.” Marin  followed  his gaze. The sun had almost  disappeared below the horizon.  Only a sliver remained visible. The entire western sky was ablaze  in magnificent shades  of orange  and red. A few degrees more and the sun would vanish completely, plunging  the island into darkness for the next fourteen years. They said this would happen soon, perhaps in a matter of days.

It sounded a bit like the end of the world to Marin, and she still found it hard to believe.

The wind blew gently and Palan sighed. “It saddens me that I will never see this place again. When I leave here—I expect I won’t return.”

Marin  reached out  and  touched his  arm.  The  old  man turned away from  the  sea, back toward  the  island’s interior, and grasped her hand. “I’ve heard movement in the forest,” he whispered.

“What do you mean?” asked Marin, worried that Palan may have become lost in his mind.

Palan gripped her hand tighter but did not reply. A muffled shout rang in the distance.


They looked up and watched a teenage  boy moving toward them. It was Line. If Palan hadn’t been there,  she would have run to him, but now she just waved back.

When he arrived,  Line appeared slightly confused.  Palan studied  them both, arched  an eyebrow, and smiled.

Line’s dark brown  eyes twinkled as he approached Marin. He was handsome in the  way that  few boys of fourteen are. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with an unkempt shock of reddish-brown hair, high cheekbones, and a cleft chin.

“Elder Palan,” said Line. “Any news of the boats?” A gust of wind pressed  his curly hair flat against his head.

Palan  straightened, as if the  use of the  honorific—Elder— reminded him  of his  role  and  station.  “Sorry,  my boy, I’ve heard nothing of the boats,” said Palan. “But I am not here for that. Come—I’ll show you.”

He  approached the  cliff ’s  edge  and  pointed   downward. Marin  and Line followed  close behind  him and peered over. The face of the cliff was shrouded in shadow,  but they could make out several thick white veins coming out of the cliff and running down its side, like a hardened trail of wax from a giant candle.

“It’s ice,” said Palan. It was colder at the edge of the cliff, and his shoulders began to tremble.  “My father  brought me to this place as a boy. The ice always begins here. It squeezes  out of the rock and then, they say, it spreads  . . . until it covers every- thing. The island turns to ice.”

Marin and Line stood close together, near Palan. Line’s fingers grazed Marin’s.

Palan leaned  over several inches  more. “Somewhere down there  is the hag.” His voice turned hoarse. “At times, when the waves break just right, you can see her.”

He took a step back from the cliff and smiled with great con- tentment, as if recalling a particularly fond memory. Marin and Line looked down at the water. It seemed no different than be- fore. Palan often spoke in riddles,  in the manner that those of such age do.

“I’d like to get a better  view of that ice,” said Line, taking off the coil of rope slung across his shoulder and pushing  up the sleeves of his sweater.  His forearms and biceps were  tan and muscled from years of rock climbing.

“As you wish,” said Palan. “But be careful. Ice is much slicker than rock.”

Suddenly  impatient, Marin  and  Line  said  good-bye.  As Palan  shuffled  back  to town,  Line  set  up  the  rope,  tying  it securely to a small brass ring jutting from the rock. Marin and Line had been climbing the cliffs that formed the island’s pe- rimeter their entire lives, and recently, it had been just the two of them.  Going off unchaperoned was frowned upon,  but at the moment,  the town was too consumed with other  matters to pay them any mind.

Just before beginning, they checked to make sure they were each  securely  fastened to  the  rope.  Marin  faced  Line.  She tucked a lock of hair behind  his ear so it didn’t dangle over his eyes. “You were  late,” she said, scowling  as if she were  cross with him.

“Just a minute  or two,” he said with  a grin. Line shook his head so that  his hair fell back over his eyes. “It won’t happen again.”

They descended steadily until the ocean spray began to mist their legs. The rays of the setting sun could not reach this area, and it was darker  than  they expected. Still, they were  able to see the veins of ice glowing in the murky twilight.

Line continued down several feet, until the ocean spray wet his heavy  canvas  pants  and  wool  sweater.  Marin  heard  him mutter in surprise.

“What is it?” she called.

Line looked up. Marin  was standing  comfortably on a tiny ledge two body lengths above him. “The tide’s turned,” he said.

“Just now?”

She climbed down to get a better  look.

“You’re right,” she said. “Look, you can see it.” She pointed to a thin  band of white  that  clung to the cliff wall near  their feet.

Line nodded.  “That dried salt is the high-water mark.”

They hugged the cliff wall. After all the anticipation, it was happening. During the fourteen years of Day, the waters around their  island  remained at high tide. Then,  just before  the  sun vanished,  the tide reversed itself suddenly  and rapidly, rolling out hundreds of miles and leaving exposed seabed where once there  had been crashing  waves. And the sea stayed away until Sunrise—some fourteen years later—when it returned just as fast. The timing of all of this was crucial for the islanders,  who migrated with the tide. Once it turned, they had just a few days to depart.

“Do you think anyone else knows?” she asked.

“I bet the okrana know.” Line adjusted his hold on the rock and shivered.  The nearby ice emanated cold with a surprising intensity.  “We should go.”

He was beginning  to climb back up when Marin saw something brown and green poking out of the frothy water.

“Line!” she called. Her voice was sharp against the muffled thump of the waves.

Line stopped.  His foot was jammed  into  a tiny crevice  in the rock, and one of his fingers curled around a slight nub. He leaned out and looked down, using his free arm and leg for bal- ance. To Marin, it looked like his finger and foot were glued to the wall. Marin shook her head and smiled. Show-off.

“What is it?” he asked nonchalantly.

“Just come look,” said Marin. Her eyes were wide and brim- ming with excitement. “There’s something in the water.”

Line climbed  back down  to join her  on the  ledge. He followed her gaze and, over the next few minutes,  they watched a human  form emerge  from the receding  tide. It jutted  out at a strange  angle, but still they could tell that it was a statue  of a woman. The head was carved in simple lines, yet her expres- sion was surprisingly intricate. Her  mouth  was gaping open, as if she were screaming or expressing great terror. The statue was big—three or four times the size of an average person.

“Palan’s hag,” whispered Line.

The water  level was dropping steadily,  and soon they saw her upper  torso. The hag brandished a shield and wore a sim- ple cloak wrapped tightly around a lean, muscular body.

“I see writing!” Marin called. “There—on the shield!”

They waited  breathlessly through several  waves, until  the trough  of one large wave revealed the following words in huge block letters: the houses must be without stain.

Marin  tried  to suppress an uneasy  feeling. The island was littered with old ruins—crumbling foundations, broken pillars, old stone walls. This statue was just another relic of the island’s past. A vestige of ancient  peoples.  Still, the phrase  seemed strangely  relevant.  The houses must be without  stain. Now that the tide had turned, everyone  in town would be cleaning their homes, preparing to leave. It was an ironclad rule—the last task before departure.

“Why is this statue here—in the ocean?” Marin asked.

Line said nothing at first. “It’s curious,”  he finally replied. “It looks very old.” He frowned as if an unpleasant thought had crossed  his mind,  then  turned to Marin.  “I’m ready  to head back. All right?”

“What’s the matter?”  Marin  asked. The sea had left a fine mist on their exposed skin and hair.

Line smiled, but it was forced. “I’m just cold, that’s all.” “Let’s go,” she said, nodding.  Line was more  her brother’s friend than hers, and she still didn’t know him that well. They began ascending the  shadowy  rock face. Marin  was about  to urge Line to climb faster  when  his foot rolled  off the rock. It was shocking—he might have fallen backward if he didn’t have a rope to grab onto. Line was one of the best climbers  in Bliss. He’d never slipped before.

“What happened?” called Marin.

“Ice,” said Line, almost as a curse. “It’s in the crags.” Together they  climbed  as quickly  as they  could,  back toward the sunlight.



EVEN THOUGH   MUCH  OF THE ISLAND WAS COVERED   IN shadow,  there  were still places that caught  the light. The trail that  led back to town  was such a place. It was perfectly  situ- ated along a hill, facing the nearly disappeared sun. As a result, everything—from  the  garnet  pebbles  on  the  ground  to  the swaying remnants of wheat and grass—shimmered.

After their  cold, dark climb, even this small amount  of sun warmed Marin. It made her think  of the Desert  Lands and of her mother, who was born in that distant place. The ice had ap- peared  so suddenly—and the cold coming from it still seemed to grip her.  All of a sudden,  following  the  sun to the  Desert Lands didn’t seem like an entirely bad idea.

“It’ll be chaos in town,” said Line as they walked  up a hill dotted  with clumps of fragrant, blue-tinged bushes. He shook his head and shrugged,  as if this would be more an annoyance than anything  else. “Pure chaos.”

Marin frowned, trying to imagine their orderly town in a state of chaos.  “They send  the  envelopes  out after  the  tide  turns— right?” Of course, she knew this to be true. How many times has my father said as much? But still, now that  the  moment  had arrived, she felt a compulsion to repeat it—just to be sure.

Line nodded.  “I bet they’re doing it right now,” he replied. “And  after   that,   everything  will  shut   down—the  markets, school, even the fall wheat harvest.”

Marin thought about this. “I figured we’d have at least two more  weeks.”  She paused  for a moment  and  then  added,  “I guess that means we’ve just had our last climb together.”

Line sighed, hoping that wasn’t true.

“I knew this was going to happen,”  he said, glancing at the sea. “Anyone who  sails could  see the  tide  was going to turn sooner rather than later. I don’t know why the mayor uses that stupid lunar calendar.”

They  continued on, walking  single  file along  the  narrow path.  Marin  picked  up her  pace, both  to match  Line’s longer strides  and to warm  herself  up. Was she cold from the climb, or was the wind turning sharper? Probably both. The path widened again,  and  Line  drew  up  next  to Marin.  Although she didn’t look over, she could sense that  he was close to her. “What are you going to do now?” she asked softly.

Line massaged his palms to release the tension  from climb- ing. “Well, classes for the children will have ended  now that the tide’s turned—so I have Francis to look after. I’d like to for- age for some mushrooms, too—maybe even a bit of lekar.”

“You think you’ll be able to find lekar so close to Nightfall?” she asked.

“Maybe,” he replied.  “Francis and I could really use the ex- tra money.”

Line lived with his younger  brother. Their  father  died just after Francis’s birth, and two years ago, their mother had sud- denly taken ill and died, too. The doctor said it was pneumonia, an illness that often came with Dusk. After that, the two boys lived with their uncle for a while, but it hadn’t worked out—he was foul-tempered and spent most of his time drunk. For over a year now, fourteen-year-old Line and seven-year-old Francis had been on their own. It was unusual, to say the least, but Line managed.

Line grabbed  at a clump  of dead  wheat  stalks and started shredding them. He glanced at Marin. “With the tide turning, I have a lot to do. I haven’t really packed up the house yet.”

Marin’s eyes widened. Her family had been doing this for weeks. Line’s house was much smaller, but still. “I’ll help,” she said quickly.

It was Line’s turn  to look surprised. “Really? What  if your parents find out?”

“Don’t be stupid,”  she retorted. “I’ll help  a bit—that’s all.” Marin  was suddenly  embarrassed, and she wondered if Line could tell. Luckily, they’d crested a hill and were heading down the other side, into shadow. Of course, Line was right. It would be risky going to his house. Marin’s mother, Tarae, didn’t like the  idea  of her  spending  time  alone  with  a boy—especially Line, who lived without parents.

They  continued along the  footpath,  crested a small bluff, and took in the view, surveying their town’s collection of ever- green gardens, neatly manicured walls, timber-framed houses, and slate rooftops.  It was a bucolic place. Theirs  was a town of five hundred people,  but from this vantage  point  it looked small. And compared to the  massive  forest  that  covered  the island’s interior, it was small—just over a hundred buildings, nestled  together.

Delicate  trilling  noises  suddenly  filled  the  air.  Moments later,  a mule  appeared pulling  a cart.  It  was decorated with dozens  of silver bells, which  jingled rhythmically as the cart rolled down the dirt road that led toward  Bliss.

In the driver’s seat was a figure clad in a black robe; he was the town’s vicar, a stony-faced man whose eyes stared purpose- fully ahead. In the backseat sat a fragile-looking elderly woman who held an infant in her arms. The woman was the matriarch of a band of widows who scaled fish to earn their keep, and she claimed to be 107 years old. No one had the temerity to dispute this. She looked so frail, it was surprising that she was able to sit up straight and hold the baby.

Marin  and Line came to an abrupt halt. This custom—the so-called  Pageant  of Life and Death—occurred as soon as the tide  turned; because  this  was  their  first  Sunset,  it was  also the first time they’d witnessed the ritual. They stood in place, watching the cart pass, until the sound of its bells grew faint. The noise, however, was soon replaced by a number of distant, high-pitched screams.  The sounds  were  not human,  but they were bloodcurdling all the same.

“What is that?” asked Marin. She put her hands to her ears. “It makes my skin crawl.”

“They’ve  started slaughtering pigs  for  the  journey,”  said Line. “Things  are moving  faster  than  I thought. We’d better hurry.”



THEY TOOK A WINDING  GOAT   PATH THAT LED THROUGH the abandoned fields surrounding Bliss. With  the sun so low and  the  weather turning cold, their  previously  fertile  farm- lands  had gone barren.  Only a few fields still produced food, but it was nutritionally poor fall wheat  and stunted potatoes. In recent weeks, even these were hard to find—the fields sud- denly teemed  with bugs, mites, and strange  biting worms. And so the  people  of Bliss lived  mainly  off their  supplies  while waiting for the ships that would take them south.

Line’s home  was a small farmhouse at the  edge of Bliss, notable  for its round  stained  glass windows.  Just beyond his farmhouse, the houses were built closer together, and the cobblestone roads of the town appeared.

As they neared Line’s home,  they could  see that  foot traf- fic in town  had picked  up dramatically, and the usually quiet streets were filled with people chattering and pushing past one another. Bells began  tinkling,  and people  stopped what  they were  doing to stare  at the main street,  which  cut Bliss neatly in two. The  Pageant  of Life and  Death  had  arrived  in town.

Parents drew  their  children close, while  others  muttered de- votions and averted  their eyes.

Line slowed down and frowned. “Why is Kana in that tree?” At the mention of her brother’s name, Marin looked around eagerly. “Where?”

Line pointed  to a bare apple tree that stood near his house, overlooking  Bliss’s main street. Like most apple trees, this one had  stopped bearing  fruit  almost  a year ago. Now a slender, fine-boned boy watched the pageant from its topmost  fork.

“Kana!” Marin yelled.

The  boy flinched  but  did  not  acknowledge her,  not  even with the slightest turn of his head.


Again he ignored her.

Kana  was  Marin’s  twin.  He  was  about  Marin’s  size,  but where  Marin  was dark-skinned, with  black wavy hair, Kana’s hair and skin were pale—“snow-kissed,”  as they called it. The only physical feature they shared was their long pitch-black eyelashes.  They made  Marin’s eyes unusually expressive;  for Kana they served  as a spotlight,  drawing  attention to his pale blue eyes.

Until  recently,  though,  his  eyes  hadn’t  seemed  to  work. Kana had been born  blind. Or at least that’s what  the family had believed. At around ten years old, as the sun started dip- ping lower in the sky, Kana began perceiving shapes and shad- ows. When he squinted he could see better, so the town’s glass blower made him a bizarre  pair of spectacles, which  were es- sentially  wire  frames  with  eye patches  on them.  Each  patch had  a tiny hole  in the  center,  allowing  in only a pinprick of light. Within  the last year, however,  as it grew darker, Kana no longer needed  the spectacles at all.

“Kana!” shouted Marin again, betraying  more than a touch of irritation. Nearby  townspeople turned toward  her  voice. Kana looked at her, revealing  the other  side of his face, which was marked  by a jagged scar that began at the top of his right cheekbone and continued down to his jaw. Kana eyed Line and his sister coldly for a moment,  then turned away.

Line put  a hand  on Marin’s arm. “Don’t force it,” he said. “He’ll come around.”

Marin just furrowed her brow. “Come on,” said Line.

A short while later, they found Francis waiting at the farm- house where he and Line lived. He was wearing green overalls, a buckskin  vest, and a gray flannel  hunting cap. This was his favorite  outfit,  and Line let him wear  it every day—until the smell became too ripe. As soon as he saw Line, Francis jumped to his feet and raced toward  them. Line ruffled Francis’s thick brown hair, which probably should have been cut months  ago.

“Were you waiting long?” asked Line.

Francis  shrugged.  “Some okrana  came for you a few min- utes ago.”

“Now what?” said Line. The okrana were the town’s volun- teer  police.  They  patrolled the  coastline,  looking  out for the raiders and thieves  who occasionally  preyed  on towns.  Most were  farmers  with  a desire  for something more  exciting,  but Bliss—up to now—had provided little  opportunity for action. Lately, they had been checking  in on Line often—urging him to pack up and get his house  in order.  This drove Line crazy.

Marin  wasn’t  so sure  he didn’t  need  the  reminders, but  she never admitted as much.

“They  gave me something,”  said Francis.  He  dug into  his pants  and extracted a crumpled envelope.  “They said it’s for the  master  of the  house.  What  does that  mean?  Are you the master?”

Line ignored his brother and eyed the envelope. “I guess the letters  are here,” he said to Marin. “I wanted  to get to the bak- ery before this. We need bread.”

“Don’t worry—there’s plenty at our house,” said Marin. “My mother’s been hoarding it. Let’s open the envelope. May I?”

“Might as well,” said Line.

Francis  began fidgeting,  unable  to contain  his excitement. “I’ll do it!” he exclaimed.  He tore awkwardly at the seal, rip- ping the paper in several places. Impatient now, Francis thrust it at Line, who promptly gave it to Marin.

She felt the envelope’s weight  in her  palm. It was heavier than she expected. Carefully, she pulled out two sheets of thin paper.  The  first  page  contained a detailed  floor  plan  of the house. The second was filled with notes describing where each carpet, piece of furniture, and picture was to be stored.

“What’s this?” she asked, pointing  to a diagram  of a wall in the front  room. It was marked  with  an arrow  and the words rat, snout, and teeth.

Line peered at the pages. Marin looked inside the envelope again, and saw a skeleton  key encrusted with verdigris.

Francis’s eyes grew wide. He snatched the key but fumbled it, and it fell to the ground  with a metallic clang. In an instant, he’d crouched down and picked it up.

“Can I keep it?” he said, face beaming with excitement.

Line took the key from Francis  and turned it over several times. “Later,” he said as he pocketed it. “I don’t want to lose this before I know what it opens.”

Francis  frowned and gave his brother a shove. “I’m old enough! I won’t lose it.”

Line glanced  at Marin  and smiled. At least several  times a day, and  in a variety  of situations, Francis  claimed  to be old enough. It was his favorite thing to say.

Line grabbed  Francis  and lifted him up. “Let’s get inside,”

said Line. “I’m starving.”

He opened  the door, walked  inside, and unloaded Francis, who rushed away. Marin  paused  on the doorstep to look be- hind  her. The  Pageant  of Life and Death  was still occupying everyone’s attention, and Kana was no longer in the tree.

Line reappeared at the doorway. He held the door open for her and smiled. “Coming inside?”

Marin nodded  and quickly followed him, shutting the door behind her.




THE   FIRST  FL OOR  OF LINE’S HOUSE   WAS   A  LARGE  OPEN space with whitewashed walls, which appeared a murky green in the glow of the many stained glass windows. The walls were bare except for a number of crudely fashioned pegs where  the family hung its cloaks and hats. Line lit a few candles  so they could all see properly. During the brighter years of Late Morn- ing and Noon, the stained  glass helped  mute the ever-present glare of the sun. Nowadays,  it was so gloomy that  Francis  re- fused to enter  the place alone, which is why he’d been waiting outside.

Even  in  the  dim  light,  however,  there  was  no  mistaking how  little  packing  Line had  done.  Farm  tools—spades, hoes, and  buckets—were  still  caked  with  dirt.  The  corners were thick with cobwebs made by strangely industrious spiders that emerged  in the  recent months  of Twilight.  Dirty  plates  and dishes, crusted and flaking from previous  meals, lay on the kitchen  table and counters. Bearing  mute  witness  to the dirt and grime was an army of toy soldiers, perched on every ledge and in every crevice.

Line waved a hand at the mess. “I may have mentioned that

I haven’t packed up the house yet.”

“You may have  mentioned that,”  Marin  said dryly. It  was strange to be in Line’s house without an adult present. And yet this was how Line lived—on his own—with no one to answer to. She imagined,  for a moment,  what  it would be like to live here,  too, with  Line, spending  her  time  with  her  own  rules, rather than those of her parents.

Line led Francis into a small alcove at the back of the house, which served as the kitchen.  He pushed a small wooden panel in the wall, triggering a copper  pipe to splash cold water  into a cast-iron pot that sat in the jade washing basin. Marin stood nearby, fidgeting with a toy soldier that she’d picked up.

Just then, Francis screamed.

A monstrous apparition was staring  at them  through the front window.  Its face was long and blackened, except  for its eye sockets—a pair  of cavernous,  bloodred tunnels through which  two  green  serpents protruded. The  face quickly  dis- appeared, and then  there  was a knock  on the  door.  Francis cowered behind  Line.

“It’s okay,” said Line, lifting his brother into his arms. “I was expecting something like this—they’re a little early, though.”

He swung the front door open. A nine- or ten-year-old child stood in the doorway, wearing the gruesome mask they’d seen in the window.  Marin  considered ducking  out the back door, but it was too late; the child had already  seen her. Will he tell anyone? It probably didn’t matter. People had bigger things to worry about these days than who was unchaperoned.

“Take off your mask,” ordered Line. “You’re scaring my brother.”

“We’re not allowed to,” said the boy. He turned his head, as if looking for confirmation, and a second figure emerged in the doorway.  This was a grown  man, wearing  a yellow mask em- blazoned  with flame-shaped metalwork.

“Who are they?” whispered Francis, his face half buried  in

Line’s neck.

“I am the Specter  of Night,” the boy with  the serpent eyes intoned.  His  deep  voice  was  clearly  forced.  “And he  is the Specter of Day.”

The man in the golden mask nodded.

“The tide has turned,” continued the boy with  the serpent eyes. He spoke  solemnly  and  deliberately, enunciating every word,  as if reciting  the  lines from a poem. “The cycle of the stars has begun. The sun is gone. Darkness  shrouds the island. We are to leave.”

Line took a step forward.  “We have the envelope,”  he said. “And we’re in the middle of preparing the house.” He paused. “Are you done here? Like I said, my brother is scared.”

“He should be scared,”  the  boy said. “I am the  Specter  of Night and there  are other  spirits,  much  more  gruesome than I, waiting in the woods. My face was made in their likeness.”

“Is that true?” asked Francis, looking up at his brother. “He’s repeating the lines from an old poem,” said Line. “It’s

just a silly game.”

“You should  show more respect,” interjected the man with the golden mask. He pointed an accusing finger at Line. “These customs  are sacred. Prepare your house before the furriers ar- rive.” He looked around. “You have work to do here, boy.”

Line’s jaw tightened. He set his brother on the ground  and stalked  toward  the door. Marin, sensing a possible confronta- tion, stepped in front of Line and addressed the man with the golden mask.

“Specter of Night,” she said, inclining her head respectfully. “You have something for this house, do you not?”

The man nodded,  appeased. The boy with the serpent eyes reached into his coat, pulled out a small paper bag, and gave it to Marin. “Cover your scent.”

Francis pushed his way toward  Marin. “What is it?”

“Lime,” replied the boy with the serpent eyes, using his reg- ular pitch now. “It’s what they put on dead bodies. You need to sprinkle  it around the house before you leave.”

Marin  bowed.  “I’m sure  there  are  other  houses  awaiting your arrival.”

“Blessed be the Day,” said the man with the golden mask. “Save us from the Night,” said the boy with the serpent eyes. And then, much to everyone’s relief, they departed.

No one  spoke  at first.  Francis  kept  his  large  brown  eyes fixed on his brother.

“Was that  the  silversmith?” asked  Marin,  finally breaking the silence.

“It sounded  like him. He’s a friend of my uncle’s,” Line said with a roll of his eyes.

Line sent Francis to play with his soldiers, then returned to the kitchen.  Eager for something to do, Marin began to clean, starting with wiping down the windows. As she rubbed a cloth across the dusty panes of glass, she thought again of the hag in the ocean. The houses must be without stain.

Line cooked up a generous  amount  of dandelion greens, sprinkling in salt, pepper, and dried  cod. When  the food was ready,  he served  three  large  plates  and  they  sat at a rickety wooden table. They were hungry, and ate in silence.

Francis  finished  first. He dashed  to a worn-down armchair and picked up an oversize  leather-bound book embossed  with flowing gold script  across its cover: Tales of the Desert Lands. It  told  the  story  of a little  girl named  Shiloh  who  was born along the equator, where the sun rose and set in a shorter cycle: seventy-two hours of Day followed by seventy-two hours of Night. Children from all of the northern islands were given this book, in order to prepare them for life in the desert. Once there, the islanders would spend fourteen years in a small city of sand- stone buildings,  situated on a crescent-shaped beach hemmed in by the Desert Lands on one side and the ocean on the other.

Marin stood up from the table and walked over to the chair where Francis was sitting. She eyed his book and recalled how Shiloh rode a two-humped horse across the dunes, befriended the desert nomads, and found wādīs where treasures were bur- ied. Most memorable of all was the story of Shiloh’s time at the Cloister—a forbidding stone tower rising from the sand—where she spent a year isolated  with other  girls her age. It was a rite of passage for natives of the Desert Lands and their daughters. During this time, the “women-to-become” meditated together and used scalpels and ink to etch markings across their bodies and faces.

Francis  looked  up at Marin.  “What’s it really  like in the Desert  Lands?”  he  asked.  “Your mother lived  there,  didn’t she?”

Marin nodded.  “She did.”

“And that’s why she has those marks on her wrists?”

Marin  nodded   again.  “The  markings  aren’t  only  on  her wrists,” she explained. “They go all the way up her back, too.”

“Can I touch them one day?”

“Francis—it’s late,” said Line, eager  to change  the subject. “You need to get to bed.”

Francis  shook his head. “I don’t want to go by myself. And

I’m not tired.”

“Go with  him,” Marin  told Line. She felt a sudden  pang of sadness for Francis, this little boy with no parents to tuck him in. “I’ll clean up, and we can move the furniture when you come down. And don’t forget, we also have to deal with the key.”



LINE   WALKED    FRANCIS    UP    THE   NARROW,     CREAKING stairs  that  led  to  the  second  floor,  holding  his  hand  so he wouldn’t trip in the dark stairwell. At the top of the stairs was a small landing and three doorways. One doorway led into Line’s room, another into Francis’s room, and a third  into the room his parents had shared.

“Can I sleep in your room tonight?” asked Francis.

“Okay,” said Line. He was too tired to argue. Francis walked over to Line’s bed and climbed into it. Line crawled  in next to him and pulled a huge comforter over them. It was used only in Twilight, when the weather became uncomfortably cold. Fran- cis was quiet, and for a moment,  Line wondered if he’d fallen asleep. That hope was dashed when Francis turned and asked, “Did Mother know about the spirits who live here at Night?”

Line paused. Francis did not talk about their mother often. “Nothing lives here at Night,” Line replied, patting  his little

brother on the shoulder. “It’s too cold. The island freezes.” “But the spirits  are dead,” persisted Francis.  “So it doesn’t matter how cold it gets.”

“There’s no such thing as spirits,” said Line gently. “Adults think that telling kids to get ready before the spirits come will make them  pack up quickly. But we live on our own, so we’re kind of adults already and don’t need to play. Understand?” He kissed his brother on the cheek. “Now close your eyes.”

“But I’m not tired.”

Line sighed. “Do you want me to sing?” “Yes,” said Francis with a yawn.

Line cleared his throat and began to sing “Hand Over Hand,” one of the ballads that old men and women sang as they scaled the island’s cliffs. It was a slow, sad melody—perfect for chant- ing in rounds, with each climber on a rope singing in intervals. Line sang for a while, then hummed the tune.

Some time  later,  Line woke with  a start.  How long have I been asleep? It could have been minutes or hours—he was too disoriented to tell. He  stood  and  walked  downstairs. Marin was gone, and the house was in tip-top shape. She had done a great deal of work—the dishes were cleaned, the toys put away, and the tools returned to the shed. Much of the furniture had been moved, too. Marin was incredible.

They had grown up alongside each other, part of a group of children who’d been born  at Sunrise.  Throughout their  early childhood, Marin  and Kana had kept to themselves, as twins often do. In fact, one of Line’s earliest memories was watching Marin  lead Kana along the cliffs. For years, Line had thought her beautiful—her brown skin, her smile, her confidence, even with the elders. Yet it was Kana whom Line befriended first— the two boys became close around the time that Line’s mother died.

Together, they explored the  darkened edges of the  forest, where  Kana helped  Line gather  mushrooms and a medicinal plant  called lekar. Lekar always fetched  a good price  at mar- ket, but it was hard to find so close to Night, so he mainly sold mushrooms now. This, and a little farming, was how Line sup- ported himself. It was only within  the last three  months  or so that Line and Marin started spending  time together—and  this, unfortunately, had  been  the  beginning  of things  souring  be- tween Line and Kana, and between Kana and Marin.

Line walked into the kitchen.  The old windup  clock by the stove read midnight. He had been asleep for hours.  Then,  on the counter near the food cupboard, he saw a note.



I thought I’d let you sleep.

The kitchen chairs are in the living room. The coffee table needed to be rotated by a half turn, so

it faced the other way. (Insane.) The end table from Francis’s bedroom is in the parlor. I moved the desk by myself. Aren’t you impressed? I also cleaned up your parents’ room. I hope you don’t mind.

There were a few notes on the floor plan that I didn’t understand, like the bit about the rat, snout, and teeth. And I couldn’t find the round tables. I’ll bring you some bread tomorrow.

Remember the key. It fits that door in the cellar.


“The key,” said Line aloud. He nodded—fully awake now—and set to work. He grabbed a lit candle from the dining room and proceeded to a door at the back of the kitchen.  He opened it, cleared away a thick draping of cobwebs, and headed down- stairs to the cellar. The stone walls of the cellar were sweating rivulets  of water, which had softened the gravel and dirt floor, making it mucky. Line could feel his shoes sticking to the earth as he walked.

At the far end of the cellar, he found what  he was looking for: a sturdy  wooden  door, bolted and sealed shut with an old warded lock. He’d never seen the door open. His mother had told him it was a storage closet, and he’d never been especially curious  about  what  was inside. The cellar was not a place to spend free time.

Line took the key from his pocket, slid it into the lock, and fumbled around until he was rewarded with a click. He opened the door and revealed two round tables and three large wooden boxes. He walked deeper into the closet and leaned in to exam- ine the boxes more carefully. One of them  was marked  rat, a second was marked snout, and the third was marked teeth.

Line sat back on his heels, intrigued. He hadn’t expected the arrival  of the envelopes  to lead to a treasure hunt  in his own house.

One by one, he brought the boxes to the main floor and ar- ranged  them  in a row. Line knelt down  over the box marked rat and pulled out a huge animal head, stuffed and mounted on a wooden  slab. It looked  like a cross between a rat and a storybook mastodon. The head was twice the size than that of a horse, which  meant  that  the body must have been gigantic. Beneath  the head  was a brass plate  emblazoned with  ornate cursive letters  written in a strange  alphabet.

“Wow,” said Line. “You’re an ugly one.” He consulted the floor plan  and  concluded that  rat was meant  to go on the middle peg in the front room. The head fit perfectly.  He then walked back across the room and opened the crate marked snout—and removed  yet  another mounted head.  This  one had  interlocked plates  instead  of fur, two pointy  tusks,  and a long snout—almost like an armadillo with an especially  big nose. This head hung to the left of rat. Finally, he opened  the box marked  teeth and pulled  out a third  mounted head. It was almost identical to snout, except for a set of long, jagged fangs.

“What  are you?” asked Line quietly, as if he half expected the head to answer his question. “And where in God’s name did you come from?”

There’d  always been  stories  that  wild boars—and animals even fiercer and more primordial—lurked in the depths of the island’s forests. Line never entirely  believed such tales, but he never totally discounted them, either. It was a large island, and very few people  left the  immediate vicinity  of town  and the coastline.

Line consulted the  floor plan  again, placed  teeth on the wall,  and  returned the  wooden  boxes  to  the  basement. He then  moved the two round  tables into the front room. Finally, he opened  the small paper  bag of lime and sprinkled it as he walked  around,  giving  the  entire  dwelling  the  air  of a dis- infected  outhouse.

When  he  was  done,  he  stopped to stare  into  the  lifeless eyes of rat, snout, and teeth, wondering what  the purpose of hanging  these  grotesque animals  on the  walls  could  pos- sibly be. It was pointless—absurd. What  will I tell Francis at breakfast?

Line glanced  at the small grandfather clock in the corner. It was an hour past midnight. Francis  would be asleep for the next six hours. His little brother was the soundest sleeper  that Line had  ever  encountered, and  this  was a good thing.  Line wanted  to make a quick trip to the edge of the woods to collect mushrooms for trading.  And he knew of a spot that might still have some lekar, though  that  was probably  too much  to hope for.

He  reread Marin’s  letter.  She’d even  cleaned  his parents’ room—knowing that it had to be done, and that he was reluc- tant  to do it. Marin  saw a problem,  and she attacked it. They were a good team. But everything would change in the Desert Lands. Line knew this because Marin’s mother had pulled him aside  recently and said exactly  that.  She hadn’t  been  unkind about it, just matter-of-fact: This is the way it must be—she will spend time with other girls her age. In seclusion. And after that, she will be busy with many other things. Tarae had lingered  on those last words as she looked at Line. Her message was clear: the  relationship between Marin  and Line would  come  to an end when they left Bliss.

Line never  told Marin  about this conversation. Maybe she already knew. All this filled Line with a sense of immediacy— the next day, or two, perhaps, was all that he and Marin had.

He  stood  up  straight and  looked  again  at  Marin’s  letter. If he went  quickly, there  was something he could do for her.

He’d been thinking  about this for weeks but hadn’t found the time. It wouldn’t take long, and he’d be back before Francis awoke. He grabbed a thick wool sweater and rushed out of the farmhouse.





AFTER  A  RESTLESS SLEEP, MARIN   WOKE    EARLY AND DE‑ livered a loaf of bread to Line’s house. She came while the town was still largely asleep and placed the warm parcel at the front door. Marin had already been up for several hours, baking the dark, tough bread—known as sheet iron or tooth dullers—which would be their staple for the long journey to the Desert Lands. The main ingredient was fall wheat, a slender,  reedy grain that grew reluctantly in the dimming light of the last year. For those who remembered the hearty summer wheat of years past, it was a poor substitute. Still, Line and Francis probably wouldn’t care, especially since the loaf was still warm. Marin walked away, smiling at the memory of the three  of them eating together last night. It might be a long while before she spent time with them like that  again. Soon she would be in the Cloister.  What  then? Will Line wait for me—for a full year? And wait for what?

On the  way home,  Marin  trailed  along the  cliffs, pausing for a moment  to take in the view. The island and surrounding water were gripped  in shadow. Angry gray-black clouds roiled above, while only a thin sliver of orange peeked on the horizon.

Marin  looked  up the  shoreline to where  the  island  began to curve  inward.  Standing  here,  she felt as if the island  were a massive ship plowing through the sea. No matter how terri- ble the storm, waves would beat themselves into nothingness against the cliff wall.

It was strange  to think that the people from Bliss had lived here for only a few generations—just over a hundred and fifty years. Before discovering the island, they sailed the Polar Sea following fishing stocks, as weather and the currents permit- ted. Then they landed on the island and found a beautiful story- book town, perfectly  intact  and completely uninhabited. After much prayer and argument, a decision was made. To the sounds of deep bass-toned drums, the oldest person carried a newborn baby into Deep Well House. There  they stayed for twenty-four hours, hoping that the house did not contain some trap or curse that  would kill them. Eventually,  the old lady emerged  trium- phantly carrying the exhausted baby, and everyone moved into the town.

As a child, Marin loved to hear every detail of this story, and she eagerly looked forward to its retelling  during  the Pageant of Life and Death. But over the years, she’d grown dubious  of the  history.  She’d recently overheard an uncle  repeating the story to one of her younger  cousins, and asked him afterward if he really believed it.

“Of course I believe it,” replied her uncle with a smile. They were sitting in the parlor of Shadow House and he was sipping his ale contentedly. “Don’t you?”

“It makes no sense,” Marin had said. “Why were all of these houses in perfect condition?”

“It was our destiny to come here,” replied her uncle, setting down his ale and leaning in. “This island was a divine gift, and you do not question such gifts. You accept  them  and humbly express   your  gratitude.” Marin  merely  shook  her  head—as she  always  did  when  the  adults  spoke  of destiny,  and  gifts, and  unquestioning acceptance. There  had  to be a better  ex- planation—a fight, a battle,  maybe even a plague—but clearly this town  had been inhabited, right  up until  the moment  her people had arrived. And the former  residents had been scared off, run off, or killed off. She glanced back at the town. No one would abandon such a perfect  place without cause. Marin felt certain  of this.

For several  seconds,  she stared  at the  water  and  felt the bracing wind curl around her face. Then something in the dis- tance  caught  Marin’s eye. To the left of the disappearing sun, dipping  between each  curling  wave,  was  a boat.  Her  heart sank. Only one? Impossible. They  needed  more  than  that  to evacuate  the  whole  town.  Moments later,  a few more  boats came into view, sailing in tight  formation. The  clippers  that would transport them  sailed in the middle, surrounded by sleeker, two-hulled vessels. All the sails were yellow. It was the furriers, no doubt  about  it. They were  right  on time, coming with  the  tide.  The  furriers were  mercenary nomads  of the sea who hunted in the  Polar  North,  accumulating furs, then sailed to the Desert Lands to sell their stock. Furs were prized, even in the  Desert  Lands, where  it grew  cold when  the  sun fell. Along the way, the furriers picked up passengers from the northern islands—for a price.

Marin  turned and ran back toward  town. Was she the first to spot the ships? She hoped so. It’d be nice to show the okrana how easily a teenage girl could best them at their own job. She followed the old wagon trail back to town, jogging and then running.  At a certain  point, she was sprinting flat out, and al- most crashed into someone  heading  toward  her. She tripped and came to a stop in a cloud of dust.

“What is it, child?” asked the person  she’d almost collided with. He was a portly man in a blood-smeared smock—Bliss’s fishmonger. He’d seen Marin  running and come out from be- hind his carving table to meet her. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“The furrier boats,” said Marin as she struggled to catch her breath.  “They’re here.”

“How many?” barked the fishmonger, as if he were annoyed that she had failed to specify an exact number.

“Half a dozen,” said Marin. “I—I don’t know. I didn’t count.” “Half a dozen!”  he replied.  He bit his lip and  ran  a hand through his matted brown hair. “By God, I hope there are more than  that.  Otherwise, we’ll have riots—families against  families, brother against brother. It has happened before.”

Marin stared  at him, unnerved by the fear on the fishmon- ger’s face.

“What do we do?” she asked.

The fishmonger didn’t seem to hear her. So she took a step closer and asked again, almost shouting this time.

The  fishmonger looked  at  the  ocean  and  squinted. “Get home  and tell your  people,”  he ordered. He turned abruptly and headed  into town, leaving his fish to the flies.




MARIN  SPRINTED  UP  A  WINDING    DIRT   ROAD TOWARD the woods. Her house was about a mile from town, and stood alongside a cold, fast-running stream. It was a grand old man- sion called Shadow House, named for its proximity to the for- est. Because of their age, the trees in this section of the woods had massive  trunks  and stretched several  hundred feet tall. Over  the  course  of  Marin’s  childhood, as  the  sun  arched across  the  sky and  sank  toward  the  sea, the  shadows  from these trees had lengthened, like the fingernails  on an old man who had lost his clippers. Within  the last several months,  the shadows  had crept  faster, nearly erasing  Marin’s house from the landscape—as if blotting it out in a pool of black ink. This close to the  woods,  the  shadows  of the  trees  were  so thick and overlapping that  Marin  wouldn’t  have been able to find her  house  at all if her  mother hadn’t  placed  candles  in the windows.

As she approached the front  door, Marin  heard  a steady clanking,  like someone  banging  two  pieces  of steel  together. She squinted through the darkness and saw her father kneeling by the front door, banging away with a small hammer. The door was a huge oval-shaped slab of oak, crisscrossed with a lattice- work of blackened metal. Her father was hammering with great concentration at an ornately  engraved  copper  keyhole  below the doorknob.

“It won’t come off?” asked Marin. She breathed deeply and tried to catch her breath.

Marin’s father  was so startled that he dropped his hammer. Anton was a stonemason by trade and he looked the part, with broad  shoulders, bulging forearms,  and perpetual dust  in his light brown hair. He wore heavily patched workman’s coveralls and a long-sleeved muslin shirt. The only sign of softness  was in his dark blue-green eyes, which were unmistakably kind.

“Marin,”  said  her  father  with  a shake  of his  head.  “You scared  the wits out of me. It’s not wise to sneak up on people like that—especially these days.”

She leaned over to peer at the keyhole. “Is it rusted shut?” “Afraid so,” replied  Anton. “The other  locks came off without any trouble, but this one is stuck.”

“I still don’t see the  sense  in it—taking off the  locks,” she replied.

Anton leaned  back onto his heels and stared  at her. It was clear that  she’d run  home  and had something to tell him. He smiled expectantly, bringing dimples to each cheek.

“I walked home along the cliffs.” She paused for a moment, savoring the news she was about to deliver. “I saw the boats— they’re here.”

Anton nodded  slowly. “How many?” “Half a dozen.”

Her   father   frowned  and  stood   up.  “Half  a  dozen,”  he repeated.

“Is that enough?” she asked.

Anton deliberated the question for several seconds.  “I sus- pect more are on the way,” he said finally. “Overall, the furriers always  come  with  enough.  There  have  been  exceptions, but not in recent times  . . .” He picked  up the  hammer with  one hand and ran his thick fingers through his hair with the other. “We’ll be fine, I’m sure.”  Although  his voice was confident, he  still looked  uncertain. “Go on, hurry  along  and  tell  your mother.” Anton opened  the  door  to let Marin  in, and turned back to the lock. “She’s looking for you,” he said, then began to hammer loudly.

Upon  entering the  foyer, Marin  heard  her  mother’s  foot- steps before she actually saw her. The footsteps  were hurried, frantic, as if she were nearly running. Her mother was frenzied with the prospect of moving.

As far as Marin  could  tell, Tarae  had  been  eager  to leave the island ever since arriving fourteen years ago. “I came here because  of love,” she was fond of telling  her  children. “Your father  was so charming and so handsome that he lured  me to this rock in the Polar  Sea.” Anton was a native  of the island, and had met Tarae during  his last stay in the desert.  They had married and Tarae  had agreed to follow him north,  but it had never  been  an entirely  happy  arrangement. Now, on the  eve of their  journey  to the south, Tarae was unable to contain  her excitement.

“Mother!” Marin called. “I’m back—I saw the ships!” “I heard.”

Moments later, Tarae emerged from the darkness, holding a candle. Marin’s mother was tall and darkly olive-skinned, with waist-length raven-black hair that gleamed in the candlelight. Like her  daughter, she  had  honey-colored eyes, a trait  that was fairly common  in the  Desert  Lands.  Tarae  was wearing a sleeveless  white  gown, cinched  at the waist  with  an elabo- rately braided belt. Her arms, shoulders, and lower neck were covered with interconnected skin markings that depicted a tapestry of snakes, lizards,  and dancing  nymphs. They started just above her wrist, then  twisted and turned and writhed all the way to the base of her neck. The sight was arresting, even for Marin, who had seen her mother’s body many times before. What  really surprised Marin,  however,  was her  mother’s re- vealing outfit. Women  on the island typically wore pants, silk waistbands, and long-sleeved shirts made from simple muslin. In colder  weather, closer  to Nightfall,  they wore  long oilskin coats. No one dressed  like this—not on the island.

“I met your father in this dress—he could not avert his eyes. The poor man is bewitched, they said.” Tarae’s cheeks  flushed with color as she smiled at the memory. “He fell helplessly  in love—and it happened just weeks after I left the Cloister.”

Marin had heard many times about her parents meeting and about Tarae’s year in the Cloister,  where  she pierced  her eye- lids with  lizard  bones and marked  her skin with  scalpels  and ink.

“Are you going to the boats dressed  like that?” asked Marin tentatively, thrusting her  hands  into the front  pockets  of her pants. People will gawk at you.

“Why   not?”   asked   Tarae,   sounding   slightly   wounded. “Would you mind?”

“Of course  not,” said Marin,  kicking at the  floor with  her boot. “I was just asking. It’s cold out there.”

“Marin,” said her mother, stepping  closer to her daughter. “After fourteen years, I am headed  home. I know that you love your life on this island, and I don’t expect you to share my joy. Just understand that . . .” Tarae’s voice cracked as she tried not to cry. “I recognize something of what you feel. I wasn’t much older than you when I left the desert.”

Marin swallowed hard. She had never really thought about just how scared her mother must have felt coming to Bliss. She was about to say something—what, exactly, she didn’t know— when  suddenly  a breeze  blew in from the front  door, causing the  candle  in Tarae’s  hand  to flicker  and  then  go out. They could hear the sound of Anton hammering on the lock down- stairs. Tarae muttered in annoyance and turned to get a match.

“Wait!” said Marin. “Don’t light the candle yet.” “Why?”

“Because,” said Marin. “I want to see your arms again.” Tarae spun around and arched  her back proudly.


 IT  LOOKED  AS  IF  RAYS   OF GREEN  LIGHT  WERE  EMANATING from cracks in her mother’s skin. Marin had seen these lumi- nescent  markings  before, but pitch  darkness made them  look different—bolder,  brighter.

“What  you see is on every desert  woman—they  are the ar- rows of light—and they guide us not only in the Cloister,  but throughout our  lives.” Tarae  caressed  her  daughter’s  cheek and placed both hands palm down on her hair, as if bestowing a blessing. “You will understand better  when  we arrive in our new home.”

Marin  pulled  away, almost  recoiling.  “I’m sorry . . . I have things to do.” I can’t think about this—not now. The idea of moving  to the  Desert  Lands  was not  particularly appealing, especially  when  it meant  giving up her freedom  . . . and Line. Still, she  realized  belatedly  that  her  voice  sounded  harsher than she intended.

Tarae’s arms fell, and her radiant smile faded. “Yes,” she said flatly. “You have chores to do.”

“Where’s Kana?” asked Marin.

“Working—as you should be.”

Marin pressed her lips tightly together. She was determined not to say anything  to further provoke her mother. Their  rela- tionship had been tense of late, especially in regard  to Line. It was better  to lie low until they were on the boats.

“Hurry  along now,” said Tarae.  “There  are scuff marks  on the living room floor. Your brother is working to remove them. You will help. Remember, the houses must be without stain.”

Marin  paused  for a moment.  A tingling  ran  up her  spine. Those were the very words that appeared on the statue  of the hag. “Why did you just say that?”  she asked. “Where  does it come from?”

“I don’t know—it’s just an island  saying,” said her mother, who was now busy herding dust into a pile on the floor.

“But what does it mean?”

“It means you need to start working,” said her mother impa- tiently. “Now go.”

Marin found Kana in the living room. He was wearing black wool pants and a matching sweater. The contrast made his skin look paler  than  usual.  At the  moment,  he was hunched over with his back to her, scrubbing at a stain on the wood-paneled wall.

Thick  carpets that  ordinarily stretched  across  the  floor were rolled up, ready to be carried into the storage  rooms downstairs. Marin was surprised to see that, beneath the rugs, the floorboards were scarred with hundreds of circular inden- tations—as if someone  had walked  around stabbing  the floor with a spear.

“Have you seen what Mother’s wearing?” Marin asked. She

tried  to sound  lighthearted, in the  hopes  that  she and  Kana might enjoy a brief truce. Kana continued working at the stain.


He finally looked up and stared at her impassively, with nei- ther  fondness  nor bitterness in his eyes. It was his Kana-as-a- blank-canvas look, and Marin hated it.

“You can start  on the other  side of the living room—there are some blotches  on the wall,” said Kana. He turned back to the stain  and began prodding at it in a violent, jerky motion. Marin sighed, walked to the far wall, and began to scrub. The excitement of the arriving  furrier boats seemed  far away; her family was putting her in a very bad mood.

Several  minutes later,  Marin  finished  and  moved  to  the parlor,  a large room  furnished with  several  upright couches, a stone fireplace,  and an old but functional player piano. Cur- rently the piano was playing a nocturne whose forlorn melody echoed down the hallways. Marin found the music unbearably sad, but Kana was fond of it, and he played it whenever he was home. The house  had six bedrooms, a parlor,  a formal dining hall, and a solarium. Stonemasons like Marin’s father wouldn’t usually live in such a grand place, but the house’s location next to the woods made it less desirable.

Today  there  was a fire crackling  in the  fireplace.  It was a stark  contrast from Marin’s childhood, when  it had been  far too warm for a fire. Now they built one almost every day. The island was cold, and ocean storms  appeared more frequently, peppering houses  with driving hail. A burning ember  cracked in the fireplace, and Marin jumped. She was more on edge than she realized.

Tarae appeared in the doorway, standing  so she was in pro- file. Her  back—with  its  incandescent skin  markings—cast  a faint glow on the wall behind her, giving her an almost ghostly appearance. “Marin,” she said with a kind of forced  cheerful- ness. “Please get the clock from Kana’s room. I meant  to ask him, but he’s already upstairs. Put it on the mantel in the parlor and make sure it’s facing seaward.” She paused, then smiled in a way that put Marin on alert.

“I have something for you—wait here.” A minute later, Tarae appeared again in the doorway.  She was holding  a rectangu- lar box, six inches  long and  three  inches  wide. It was made of highly  polished  copper,  and  the  red-brown hues  of the metal threw ribbons of color onto Tarae’s white dress. She ap- proached Marin  solemnly  and held out the box. “Your birth- right. I have been waiting for this moment  . . .”

Marin  took the box in her hands.  The metal  was cold and heavy.

“You will need this in the Desert Lands.” Tarae’s light brown eyes brimmed with tears. “Keep it safe during the journey.” She caressed  Marin’s  cheek  with  the  palm  of her  hand.  “Do you want to open it?”

Marin knew how much her mother wanted  her to open the box, but she couldn’t. It felt unbearably awkward. She’d do it later,  on the  furrier boats, when  the  reality  of her  life in the Desert Lands was inescapable.

“Mother,”  said Marin.  She drew  closer  and placed  a hand gently on Tarae’s arm. Marin’s voice was apologetic,  sheepish, and so quiet that it was barely audible. “Can we do this on the boats? When there’s more time? I just—I feel so rushed.”

Tarae pursed  her lips and nodded.  “As you wish.”

Marin mumbled her thanks  and headed  upstairs. The sec- ond  floor of the  house  had  seven  rooms,  but  only hers  and Kana’s were occupied. After they were grown enough to move out  of their  parents’  bedroom,  Marin  and  Kana had  chosen these, which were right next to each other.

Recently,  however,   Marin  had  begun  to  wish  that  their rooms were farther apart. On several occasions within  the last few weeks,  Kana  had  woken  her  with  hysterical screaming. She’d run to his room and found him terrified and staring  out the window,  or sitting upright in bed, one arm across his face, another extended outward, as if pushing  something away.

But he wouldn’t talk about it. Not to her, anyway. After one of these  episodes,  Marin  heard  him and Tarae  whispering in his  room.  The  following  day,  Anton  bolted  Kana’s window shut. When Marin asked why, they told her that Kana was suf- fering  from “night  terrors”—nightmares so terrible that  they seemed real even after you awoke.

Upon reaching the top of the stairs, Marin continued down the  candlelit hallway  toward  the  open  door  of her  brother’s bedroom. Kana was studying his reflection in the mirror while rubbing lekar into the scar along his cheek.

Lekar was a powerful remedy against infections of all kinds. It could be eaten or applied to a wound, and it worked quickly. Many villagers claimed it had saved their lives. It came from a bright yellow fungus that appeared on the underside of wood- fern, a small, soft plant  that  grew  in the  deep  woods.  It was very difficult  to find or even to buy—especially this  close to Nightfall—and Kana was lucky to have it. He’d been applying a small amount  to his face just once a week, and it was working, though he’d always bear a scar.

Marin  knew she had intruded upon a private  moment,  but she couldn’t help but watch. Every once in a while she was re- minded  of the fact that her brother was actually quite beauti- ful. People in town said he looked like their  father,  but it was only recently that she’d begun to see the resemblance. He had grown taller, broader, and stronger from top to bottom  during the  past  few months,  and  had  even  developed a dimple  on each cheek  like their  father.  He still wasn’t as tall as Line, or as thickly built as Anton, but he had undeniably come into his own.

The only blemish on Kana’s face was the scar. A fresh wave of guilt washed  over Marin. She was about to dart away when Kana set down  the jar of yellow lekar, turned his back to the doorway, and approached a large rocking chair in the corner of his room. He looked down at it and began to whisper.  At first, Marin  couldn’t  understand him, but  then  the  words  seemed to waft  through the  darkness,  like a chant  or the  faintest  of prayers: It didn’t happen . . . It didn’t happen . . . It didn’t happen.



IT DIDN’T HAPPEN.  IT DIDN’T HAPPEN.   KANA  MOUTHED the words as he studied  the leather-bound chair that had been torturing him for weeks. I’m being tormented  by a piece of fur- niture, he thought. How tragically stupid. And yet that was the truth of it. The chair figured  prominently in Kana’s recurring nightmare. In it, he was lying in his bed, and a woman  would call out his name. She sat in the rocking chair, hidden  beneath a cloak, and she always said the same thing: “Stay away from the woods, child—don’t let them see you.” It would have been funny, in a dark kind of way, if it didn’t seem so real. And that was the thing—it felt so lifelike that Kana wasn’t entirely  cer- tain that he was dreaming.

On one occasion, he was positive that the woman leapt from the  rocking  chair—with astounding speed—landed  on top  of him, and covered  his mouth  and eyes with  a cold, musty rag. Kana struggled  but couldn’t  shake  her  off. He gasped  for air but couldn’t breathe. She was suffocating  him. As she did this, she started talking again: “It’s better  this way, child—better for you.” Then, rather inexplicably, as he felt his body go slack, she let him go. He tumbled off the bed and cracked  his forehead against the floor. Everything went black. When he opened  his eyes, hours  later, he was looking into the terrified face of his mother. She’d come  to check  on him  and  found  him  on the floor, his face covered in thick, drying blood. That happened a week ago. Thankfully,  he hadn’t dreamed since.

Kana continued to stare at the old chair, as if it might start to rock on its own. It was an absurd  thought, and yet it wouldn’t really have surprised Kana. Not at this point.  His great-aunt Malony  was a lunatic—everyone knew  this—and, apparently, he had inherited her illness. I have Dad’s dimples and my great- aunt’s screwy brain. His aunt had died several years ago, but he could still picture her: Malony had cloudy eyes and hair so thin it revealed  her  scalp, which  was always  covered  with  scabs. She had lived with his father’s oldest sister, in a small bedroom in the attic. As a very little boy, he was terrified to be near her.

He’d voiced these worries to his mother as she was cleaning up his bloodied face, but she’d dismissed  his concerns.  “Kana, my love, it’s impossible.”

“Is it?” Kana had replied.  “Malony threw herself  down the stairs, didn’t she? And they locked her in her bedroom after- ward, right?”

Tarae  had  shaken  her  head.  “You’re fine,” she’d told  him. “It’s the coming of the Night—it’s upsetting all of us.”

Now Kana continued to stare at the old rocking chair until he heard a wooden board creak in the hallway. He listened  for a moment.  “Marin—are you just going to stand there?”

There  was no reply.

He turned and faced the doorway. “You’re not very good at spying,” said Kana. “If you want to come in, then do it.”

“Sorry,” she said. “Mother asked me to bring your clock downstairs.” Marin stepped out of the hallway and entered his room. “What  are you doing?” she asked. Marin  absentmind- edly rubbed  her hands  together and looked around Kana’s bedroom.

“Slowly losing my mind,” said Kana. He glanced  at Marin. “What’s that box you’re carrying?” Recognition  dawned on his face. “Oh. That’s  the  box Mother’s  always  chattering about. I’m a little jealous—my going-away gift was a set of bolted win- dows.” He smiled. “Did you two have your talk? How did that go?”

Marin  opened  her  mouth  in amazement. It  was uncanny how he was able to hone in on what had happened.

“The talk didn’t go that well,” she replied with a sigh. There was no point in elaborating. Kana clearly didn’t want  to have an actual conversation about this. “I just came to get the clock. That’s all.”

Marin took the clock off the wall and left the room.

Alone again, Kana felt drained,  as if his brief back-and-forth with Marin had been more taxing than he realized. He eased himself  down  on  the  rocking  chair.  It  groaned   predictably every time Kana pushed back. It was one of the noises he re- membered most  from  his childhood. He  listened  for sounds coming from Marin’s room but heard nothing.

Marin. My twin sister, Marin. He missed her. That  was the truth of it. He missed  being closer  with  her—talking, joking, even just walking  to school  together. The constant bickering was tiresome. And yet he couldn’t stop himself. He was angry— deeply angry—and this emotion  had a will of its own.

Kana closed  his eyes and envisioned the  forest.  He could smell  the  pine,  and  even  with  the  window  bolted  shut,  he knew a gentle breeze  was making the needles  shudder ever so slightly. It’d be good to get out.

He stood up and was about to leave, when  he heard  voices from outside. Kana pressed  an ear against the window.  Before he knew who it was, he could hear their agitated tone. After listening for several seconds, he called out to Marin.

She appeared at the doorway with a tired smile. Kana stud- ied her face. Even in the poor light, he could see her with star- tling clarity. Her bronze  skin seemed  to glow, adding color to her eyes and lips. It was no wonder Line was so taken with her.

“What is it?” asked Marin.

“You have visitors coming,” said Kana.

“What  are you talking about?” she asked. Her  eyes flicked to the window  next to Kana. After years of being nearly blind, Kana’s hearing was incredibly  acute.

“The   okrana   are  heading   toward   our   house,”   he  said. “They’re coming from the woods and they want to talk to you.” In addition to monitoring the coastline, the okrana were the only ones in Bliss allowed to range in the woods. And as far as

Kana and Marin knew, the okrana never made house calls. “Are you joking?” asked Marin, narrowing her eyes.

“Do I look like I’m joking?” he replied, face stoic.

Suddenly nervous, Marin stalked out of Kana’s room and headed  downstairs. As she went, she heard voices in the foyer, followed by her mother calling for her. At the foot of the stairs she met  Tarae,  who  had  wrapped a long black shawl  tightly around her bare shoulders.

“Oh, Marin,” said her mother. “What have you done, child?” “I did what  you told  me to do,” she protested. “I put  the

clock away.”

“No, something else,” said her mother. “The okrana want to speak with you.”


“I don’t  know,”  said  Tarae.  Her  anger  was  subsumed by a thick  layer  of motherly worry.  Her  lips  and  cheeks  were pinched from frowning. “They wouldn’t say.”

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