Read A Quill Ladder Online

Authors: Jennifer Ellis

A Quill Ladder (6 page)

Caleb donned a charming smile.

Well, if
they
aren

t interested, you could come one window over, and I

m sure we could work something out.


Caleb, no!

Abbey said.

How do we know whether he

s on the good side or the bad side? We don

t even know if there
is
a good or a bad side.


Maybe he could demonstrate for us that he

s on the good side,

Simon said.


What? You want me to send puffs of rainbow smoke out my fingertips, make bunnies and puppies appear, or tell you a story about the eye of Sauron? I can

t do any of that,

Ian replied.


Well, a
little
more information would be helpful,

said Simon.

Ian removed his beret, raked a hand through his sandy hair, then replaced his hat.

All right, fine. Witches were the original scientists, exploring the movement of the planet, figuring out basic physics, and learning how herbs can be used to cure disease. But due to years of persecution

mostly by those who wanted to claim our findings as their own

our contributions have been discounted and largely erased from history. Now we cannot practice witchcraft in the open without being thoroughly mocked and ridiculed

or worse. So most of us have spent the last century in hiding, and we

re all a little weary of that. The world has been in the grip of the rational mindset for too long, and frankly, it

s to the detriment of everyone. All this focus on progress

we

ve given up our intuitive connections with the natural world. Anyway, I won

t bore you with the details. You

ve all used the stones, and I

m guessing you

ve heard of the idea of parallel universes or timelines. Some witches who have used the stones in the last sixty years have seen a future where our customs can be practiced openly and are accepted alongside traditional science as being a legitimate approach to inquiry and ontological stance. But none of those futures have happened, and they figure that those futures exist in a parallel timeline. You following?

Abbey nodded and glanced at her brothers, who stared at Ian with mildly horrified expressions, no doubt wondering who would use the word ontological in a sentence.


Anyway, some members of the Guild have been trying to figure out a way to get to that timeline.


And that

s why you need Jake? To use the docks?

Abbey said.


Sort of. We

re still at the information-gathering stage. The potential ability to go back in time opens up a whole new range of options, and a whole new range of dangers. Optimally, they

ll get to the other timeline without hurting anyone. But not everyone in the Guild is of the same mindset.


And unoptimally?

Abbey said.


What new ability to go to the past?

Caleb interrupted.


The witches from Nowhere can go to the past since the past is their biological future,

Abbey said.

Caleb

s brow furrowed.

How many other things have you and Simon been up to without telling me?


Nothing, Caleb! I swear. Ian just showed up and told us this tonight.


Right, and nobody thought to give a knock on my door?

Abbey shot Simon an agonized look. Caleb whirled and marched toward Simon

s door. He turned at the last second and looked at Ian.

One window over. I

d be happy to get some lessons in witchcraft.

He closed the door behind him gently, and the strains of Flo Rida picked up again in his room.


We have to tell him, Si. We have to tell him or he

s going to hate us.

Abbey tried to contain her tears.

Simon

s face looked tight and pale.


We went to Caleb

s future without Caleb,

she said to Ian.

And now we know things,

she said.

The future Caleb told us not to tell the present Caleb about it, and he

s really mad.


Understandable. The desirability of knowledge regarding one

s own future is questionable. That

s why the creators of the stones set boundaries in place whereby one should not come into contact with one

s future self. The stones are supposed to allow
some
knowledge regarding one

s future, but not full knowledge. But they didn

t anticipate all of the developments of the current century that allow you to simply search yourself up and discover everything you ever wanted to know. Knowing everything that

s going to happen to you changes the way you live. Some people start living totally in the future, second-guessing every decision, wondering if there was a better choice, thinking that every moment in time could have been the moment their destiny was determined. There are those who want the stones destroyed as a result.

An odd tingle of dread ran down Abbey

s back at the prospect of losing the stones, as if she, too, had already become an addict.


So we
shouldn

t
tell him then?

Ian shrugged.

That

s not for me to say. There are no clear rules as to whether the wishes of the present person trump the wishes of their future selves.

He paused.

So, any decision on whether you

re going to give me Jake

s address or not?

Abbey looked at Simon. If they didn

t tell Ian, would he just go next door to Caleb? Would that be worse?


You

re not going to force him to do anything, are you?


No. But the others have probably realized that they can use him too, and might already have tracked him down. He needs our protection.

Ian withdrew a cigarette from his pocket and placed it in the corner of his mouth while he spoke. It flapped up and down.


Fine,

Abbey said.

His last name is Hammond. He lives in Greenhill. His parents own the Greenhill Bistro. You can

t smoke in here.


I know, I know. Bad habit. I wasn

t planning to light up. I

ll go. You can expect your first lesson in witchcraft sometime tomorrow after school.


How?

Abbey started as Ian climbed up onto Simon

s desk.


I

ll come to you.

A loud knock came at Simon

s bedroom door, and Ian practically swan-dived out the window into the rosebush. To his credit, he didn

t yelp.

Simon cranked the window closed and grabbed the screen to pop it back into place while Abbey made for the door. It remained closed. Abbey let out a small puff of relief. It would be Mark, then. He was the only one in the house polite enough to wait for someone to open the door after he knocked. These days their parents would just pop a head in, looking the other direction, and ask what they were up to.

She opened the door after Simon had replaced the screen and settled onto the corner of his desk with what Abbey was sure he thought was a look of casual insouciance. Still, she felt a rush of strange gratitude that he was her brother, and that they were in this together.

Mark stood in the hall, clutching a sheaf of large papers. He had his hair slicked carefully and tidily back, as usual, but his blue cardigan hung a little bit more loosely on his large frame than it had three weeks ago. Ocean padded into the room ahead of him and leapt onto Simon

s bed.

Mark entered and stood stiffly, staring at his papers.

I require the map of Coventry Hill,

he said.

To further my contour line analysis.


Okay

and how do you want us to get that for you? We

re not allowed to contact Dr. Ford, or Mantis,

Abbey replied. She wondered if her habit of slipping into a slow and patient tone of voice when talking to Mark was appropriate, or if she should just talk to him like a regular person, like Caleb did.

Mark

s face bunched up in frustration, but he took some deep nose breaths and elevated his eyes carefully to hers.

It

s important.


You think there was something on the map that we need to know?

Mark nodded.


Can you tell us what? Is it the X

s?

Mark shook his head and strode into the room. He laid the papers on the desk. Abbey saw that he had again replicated the map of Coventry Hill by hand

this time on paper

and had extended the map out to include all of Coventry City, as well as the Circle Plateau. Midway up the hill, the stones, rosebush, and Madrona were neatly rendered and accounted for in the legend. Her breath almost caught in her throat.


You

ve done a really nice job with your map, Mark.

Mark ignored her and unfurled a sheet of transparent paper over top of the map. It had the X

s, the letters

BP,

and a strange line that wound around the bottom of the valley, along the Moon River, through the downtown of Coventry. Mark extended one of his stubby fingers to the transparency.


I need to confirm the precise locations of this line and the BP dot.


Why? Do you have a hypothesis?

Abbey regretted this instantly. She should have said theory like everyone else would have. She should stop using science words just to show off.


This line is on the five-meter interval,

Mark said.


So
…”
Abbey said.


The contour interval of the map is ten meters.


So
…”

Mark expelled one of his usual huffs of impatience.

Elevation contour lines join points of equal value, or elevation. They are used to give a sense of the terrain or relief of an area. Applications also include planning artillery fire lines, calculating the volume of hills, architectural planning, predicting flooding, identifying air sheds, road design, trail building
—”


Right, right. We got it, Mark,

Simon interrupted.

Why do you think this line is important?

Mark

s shoulders slumped slightly.

I don

t know.

Other books

The Ultimate Betrayal by Kimberla Lawson Roby
The Dower House Mystery by Patricia Wentworth
Cindy Jones by Margaret Pearce
Plague Bomb by James Rouch
The Man Who Sees Ghosts by Friedrich von Schiller
Young Lions by Andrew Mackay
Tiger Rag by Nicholas Christopher