Last week we announced that Dew Pellucid’s The Sound And The Echoes is our Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of our student reviews and of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category:
Now we’re back to offer a free Kids Corner excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded this one already, you’re in for a treat!
by Dew Pellucid
The Sound and the Echoes is a high-concept, fantasy adventure for middle grade and young adult readers, with 27 magical illustrations, which you can enjoy on http://TheSoundAndTheEchoes.com.
Imagine that everyone around you has a mirror image living somewhere else. Your world is like a sound, which produced that other world of echoes. And in this land men are governed by a terrible law—no Echo is allowed to live after his Sound dies.
One Sound especially must die. The Prince’s Sound. The Fate Sealers and Fortune Tellers will make sure of that! Because after this Sound dies, the Echo Prince will have to die too.
Now, twelve-year-old Will Cleary is about to discover that he is the Sound the Echoes are hunting. And so begins his perilous adventure into a see-through, sparkling world, filled with spying crystal balls, an eerie fortress of castaway children, a hunt for clues in an ancient book of riddles, and a last-chance escape through a frozen gem-studded lake into a secret land that holds the key to placing the Prince on the throne and returning freedom to the Echoes.
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
Dear Un-Pellucid Reader,
Far, far away, in a land few Sounds have ever seen, stands the palace of Agám Kaffú. Not a palace of marble and silks, you understand. Nothing like those over-gilded palaces of the Sound realm. No, in the Land of the Echoes the palace glitters like a frozen snowflake in the early light of morning. And it looks like one too.
The walls are carved from gleaming ice that never melts, and the floors look like silent ponds you can walk on. Yes, you’ll find curtains and tapestries to rival the finest woven art of the Taj Mahal or Buckingham Palace, but here they look like waterfalls sown together, foaming and splashing but never, never flowing away.
It’s so many decades since my father took me to see it, that magnificent palace on Iceberg Mountain. Or is it centuries? Even the chandeliers resembled frozen bubbles, I remember. And the pillars looked like towering mounds of snowflakes. But if you were to see it, un-pellucid reader that you are, you wouldn’t notice the waterfall curtains or the ice cube walls. No, for you the things that would stagger belief would be alive. Trees, people, dogs… Because, you see, in the Echo realm, every living thing is see-through.
Not entirely see-through, you understand. Not invisible… well, not everyone… not all the time. But I’m getting ahead of myself. You’ll have to find it out in the proper way, turning page after page in this strange story of a Sound, a boy, who was hunted by those terrifying demons of darkness known as the Fate Sealers and their oracle masters, the Fortune Tellers.
But did it really all happen, you might wonder? Certainly, in the Echo realm, that is.
But is the Echo realm real?
Ah! That is the fortune-changing question you’ll have to answer for yourself.
The Mysterious Reappearance
Will Cleary sat in the dark listening to the howling wind.
It was an old, familiar sound that reminded Will of his nightmares, where creatures he could not see were shrieking through the holes in his bedroom walls. The creatures were a dream, but the holes and room were real and so the nightmares felt real. Will used to try and plug them, the holes. But the old cabin he and his parents lived in was falling apart with age, and Will had long since given up.
Only one precious object was beautiful in Will’s ugly room and he held it, cool between his hands. It was a crystal ball that glowed faintly like a strange basketball made of shimmering glass. There were numbers inside, falling through a bright mist, the big ones like snowflakes, the small ones like rain in slow-motion. At the moment the number eight was the biggest, and it hovered beside the smaller forty-one, with a tiny two raining down on the right, then three, four, five… It was eight forty-one in the morning according to the crystal ball clock, the start of a new day. But the falling numbers that disappeared in the fog made it seem as if time was raining out of existence.
The crystal ball clock was the first thing Will Cleary remembered from childhood. That and his nightmares.
The pale light of the shimmering crystal ball blinded Will to everything else in his cold, dark bedroom. But he could still see, a little past him, almost hovering in the blackness, the face of his white wolf with her dark-rimmed yellow eyes that seemed to see into his soul.
“’Cause I had the nightmare again,” said Will, as if the wolf had asked a question. “Not going back to sleep to have it again… and again and again. Anyway, almost time. Look.”
Will held the crystal ball out to the wolf, and in her yellow eyes two crystal ball reflections appeared with silent, falling numbers.
Then, in a moment, there was something else.
Inside the crystal ball a miniature boy appeared, looking tall and lanky, with long gangly legs and glasses. The falling seconds bounced off his curly brown hair, and the large hour and minutes hovered over him like a cloud. But the boy inside the crystal ball never noticed.
“He’s here,” said Will to the wolf.
In a flash Will was dashing downstairs. The floorboards groaned under him, and the front door whined as he tore it open, as if it would fall off. But it didn’t, and there was the boy from the crystal ball clock standing on the creaky doorstep, looking real and full-sized and very pleased with himself.
“You found it?” asked Will.
“In the museum library,” said the boy, waving a greeting at the wolf. “It’s all about—”
“Wait, Ben… Outside.”
“Outside…? As in sit and chat? It’s freezing, if you haven’t noticed.”
“I’ve noticed,” said Will, leading the way to a snowy porch bench.
The morning was still black and ominous, as if the winter wind had blown the sunrise off the ledge of the horizon. But Will had brought the crystal ball clock with him, and it cast its pale white light between him and Ben as they sat down. Then Ben pulled out a slab of white marble from his coat.
“I thought you were bringing a book?” Will frowned.
“It is a book.”
“But it looks—”
“Like a gravestone, I know. Lots of gravestones, actually.”
With trembling hands, Ben turned the strange book over to reveal the title: Disappeared without a Trace? It was printed where the names of the dead were usually carved in cemeteries.
The white wolf turned to look at Will and Ben, as if something had startled her. Then she took to pacing the porch, back and forth, back and forth, her yellow eyes peering at the dark snowy garden where the leafless trees were swaying in the wind like dancing skeletons.
But Will didn’t notice his pet. “Disappeared Without a Trace…” he read the title aloud, as a dark hiding place ripped open in his mind.
It was that secret place where Will tucked his most painful thoughts of his twin sister, Emmy—the sister he couldn’t remember because she disappeared ten years ago when they were only two. Emmy was the reason Will’s parents had let their home fall apart. She was the reason they had almost gone mad with sorrow. And now she was the reason why he and Ben had to sit outside, shivering in the cold, just to keep their conversation secret. For any talk of Emmy always ended in insane rescue plans and false hope.
“You found the proof?” Will gasped. “Emmy’s dead.”
“No, Will.” Ben’s pale eyes glittered by the light of the crystal ball clock. “You don’t understand. It’s just the opposite. You’re in the book. You disappeared just like Emmy. But you came back. And if you came back, you know what that means?”
But Will had expected to hear something quite different. An end to the mystery, not more infuriating false hope.
“Don’t you start, Ben!” snapped Will. “My Mom’s out there on the pond—looking for Emmy! She’s been doing that for ten years! My Dad hasn’t stopped looking for clues either. The last thing they need is you telling them I know the secret to bringing Emmy back.”
“But if it’s true?”
“Ben, Emmy drowned! Unless she’s a mermaid, she’s not coming back.”
“So why didn’t they find her body?” insisted Ben.
But that was the fatal question no one could answer.
For a moment Will listened to his old home creaking and groaning in the wind, until he could face the disappointment of another impossible idea. For Ben had to be wrong.
“Don’t you think my parents would have told me if I disappeared like Emmy?” said Will quietly.
“Perhaps we should have,” answered a quiet voice from the wild, snowy garden. And an old man with a young face ambled tiredly up the broken porch steps into the pale light of the crystal ball clock.
“Dad!” Will jumped back, startled. “Thought you were in the library.”
Mr. Cleary bent to shake Ben’s hand in greeting, and in the light of the crystal ball clock Mr. Cleary looked more like Will’s older brother than his father—with blond, tousled hair that looked like straw and a small, thin body that resembled a scarecrow dressed in old clothes. Even Mr. Cleary’s eyes were a lot like Will’s; large, melancholy brown eyes that spoke of a sad heart.
“Came across this idea in Dew Pellucid’s manuscript,” Mr. Cleary said sadly, puffing on a large pipe. “Secret passage in the pond… False scent, I’m afraid. But this?” Mr. Cleary frowned at the strange gravestone book. “New clues to Emmy?”
“Yes,” said Ben eagerly.
“No,” said Will flatly. He could feel himself getting angry. Not a make-your-blood-boil sort of angry, but a hopeless, helpless, falling-into-a-dark-hole anger that leaves you feeling cold and bitter.
“What now?” said Will sharply. “Think I disappeared like Emmy? Think I can remember how to bring her back?” Suddenly Will felt as if all these years his parents had been blaming him for something he couldn’t even remember.
“That’s just it,” said Mr. Cleary softly; while Ben fidgeted with embarrassment, and the wolf seemed to raise her eyebrows at Will in disapproval. “We knew you’d think that,” explained Mr. Clearly. “So we never told you, Mom and I. But how could you possibly remember anything, Will? You were barely two. It happened on Christmas, you see. On your birthdays. You and Emmy disappeared together. Well… we think you were together. We’ll never know for sure.”
“Because you can’t remember, right?” said Ben, rifling through the gravestone book. “Every page here’s about someone who disappeared. Hundreds of people, but especially kids. And no one remembers how they disappeared. Not one witness.”
“What does the book say about me?” asked Will grudgingly, dreading something terrible, a horrible reason why his sister died, but he had managed to return alive.
“Finally!” said Ben. And he dropped the strange, heavy book in Will’s lap.
But as Will started reading the page Ben had bookmarked for him, he realized that his disappearance was clouded in as much mystery as his sister’s. And yet, the story of his return was no mystery at all.
“My pets brought me back?” mumbled Will in disbelief.
“Yes, a week after you disappeared,” said Mr. Cleary, his face shrouded in pipe smoke. “We were there, Mom and I. Saw everything. How strange… So hard to believe. One minute the pond was frozen, the next the center was melting. And then you popped out, riding a wolf… with a falcon circling over you. You kept calling out the animals’ names: ‘Deá, Damian… Deá, Damian…’ in your cute toddler’s voice. That’s how we knew what to call them.
“Mom never let the hole in the pond freeze over since then,” added Mr. Cleary. “Kept it defrosted with buckets until I had the water heater installed. One day Emmy will follow you home, and we will be ready, Will. We will be ready.”
Mr. Cleary sighed and whispered to himself, “Ah, Emmy…. alone, alone, all, all alone… alone on a wide, wide sea.”
In the same moment, the shadow of a bird circling in the bleak black sky fell over Mr. Cleary’s features, making him look almost faceless. Soon the dark, speckled bird came to a landing on the wolf’s white back, and the two animals stared long at each other as if exchanging wordless greetings.
In the back of Will’s mind he could hear his father and Ben still talking, but he stopped listening. He was watching the falcon and the wolf, wondering what other secrets his pets could reveal if they could talk. Or if he could read their minds the way they sometimes seemed to read his. Then, his thoughts still mingling hope with curiosity, Will bent over the gravestone book again and read the rest of his story.
William Cleary was naked at the time of his reappearance, but his body was covered in a strange glowing plant. No such plant is known to grow anywhere on earth. Despite extensive laboratory testing, it remains unknown why the plant glows at times but not at others. One unsubstantiated theory postulates that a chemical reaction results when the plant comes in contact with a yet unidentified type of gas.
“Dad?” Will looked up. “Was I covered in a plant? A glowing plant, when I came out of the pond?”
Smoke billowed from Mr. Cleary’s face, swirling in the wind.
“Why, yes…” Mr. Cleary nodded. “A beautiful shade of luminous green. Stopped glowing after a day or two, then started again from time to time. Last month, in fact. Glowed for me and Deá when I went to water the plant… down in the cellar. Would you like to see it?”
Will caught sight of Ben nodding so hard his head seemed about to pop off. And breathlessly, Will nodded too. He had no idea his home even had a cellar, and he wondered what else he might find there.
Mr. Cleary led the way into the cobwebbed, windswept house, past mountains of moldy books in the living room and stacks of filthy pots in the kitchen. Will’s crystal ball clock lit their way behind a moth-eaten curtain at the back of the dank laundry room, then down a dark, dusty stairway that creaked ominously. At the bottom, Mr. Cleary pulled on a dangling, filthy cord and an overhead light came on with a click.
Will gazed in wonder at the musty, windowless cellar. All the walls were lined with iron shelves from floor to ceiling, and every shelf was crammed with chests and boxes, piles of paper and shapeless bundles that gave no hint of what they hid inside. It was all covered in a thick layer of frosted dust and cobwebs, like a crypt that had been closed for centuries. But even down here, Will could hear his old home creaking and moaning in the winter wind blowing outside.
“You kept the plant in the dark?” wondered Ben.
“It likes the dark,” said Mr. Cleary, wiping cobwebs off a manuscript he found on a bottom shelf by the stairs. “Warts and Witchcraft in the Middle Ages.” Mr. Cleary sighed with fond remembrance. “I was twelve when I wrote it. Emmy’s age… and yours, of course, Will. Well, we didn’t come here for that.”
Patting his son’s shoulder affectionately, Mr. Cleary reached behind an old wicker chest labeled Our Memory Box and withdrew a jar of leaves floating in water. “Not glowing, I’m afraid,” he said, securing a lid over the jar.
But at that moment veins of luminescent green began to spread all through the stringy plant, up its stalks and down its leaves, which started to drift to and fro as if an invisible teaspoon were swirling the water. Soon the whole jar was glowing like a lantern between Mr. Cleary’s fingers, casting an eerie light on the wolf’s white fur as she pushed past Will, the dark, speckled falcon still perched on her back.
Spellbound, no one spoke—until the distant honk of a car shattered the silence.
Inside the crystal ball clock Will was still hugging to his side, the miniature hologram of Ben had disappeared. But now a tiny purple minivan emerged in its place, with a shadowy figure waving hello behind the steering wheel. The hour and minute numbers of the clock hung above the car, and the seconds bounced off the roof and vanished in the mist at the bottom of the crystal ball.
“My Mom,” said Ben, already rushing off. “Promised I wouldn’t make her wait….”
“Take it!” Mr. Cleary nodded at his son.
Will stuffed the glowing jar in his coat pocket and followed Ben to the front door of his creaking home, the wolf and falcon at his heels.
“Bring the gravestone book to school tomorrow,” shouted Ben, rushing to the real-life purple minivan parked before the house, its headlights slashing the early morning darkness. “And the plant!”
With a farewell honk the car sped away, and Will was left alone, wind gusting in his face, shaking snow showers from the treetops overhead.
Inside the crystal ball clock a tiny boy with strawy hair had replaced the fading car. It was Will, and in the smaller version of his face Will could see all the confusion he was feeling. Glowing leaves and reappearance acts, he thought desperately. What next? Talking pets? And suddenly Will heard a strange girl’s voice answering, as if someone was hearing his thoughts.
“Yes, you’re quite right. It’s time we had a good long chat, Will.”
Will snapped his head back. There was no one there! No one except Deá, the wolf, curled on the porch bench, watching him with her dark-rimmed yellow eyes.
“Yes! So let’s get on with it!” agreed a young man’s voice.
Will looked around, baffled. Only Damian, the falcon, was there, perched on the rail, fluttering his speckled wings.
“Who’s there?” cried Will.
“Don’t be an idiot!” the young man’s voice replied.
Will swiveled—and caught the falcon rolling his eyes at him.
“We have a lot to tell you,” said the bird impatiently, while the wolf jumped off the porch bench and gestured with her paw.
“Maybe you should sit down first,” she said kindly, and Will could have sworn that his white wolf was smiling at him.
The See-Through People
At long last, the sunrise was unfurling in the sky with skeletal fingers of faded gray and pink. It was a cold, bleak December morning in Alaska, a place so far north on planet Earth that if there were such things as popsicle people, they could live there quite comfortably.
Will shivered from the cold, but mostly from amazement, and watched the wolf and falcon watching him. For ten years they had been perfectly normal pets… well, except for being wild animals that seemed to read his thoughts… But the wolf and falcon never plunged into a sudden conversation, not even to wish Will happy birthday when his parents had been too busy looking for Emmy.
“You— can— talk—?” Will blurted out finally, but it sounded more like coughs than words.
“I know it’s a bit of a shock,” said the wolf, nodding kindly, “but there’s a perfectly logical explanation.”
Will sunk on the broken porch steps, too stupefied to speak. The crystal ball clock slid from his hand and rolled to the bottom of the stairs, and inside it Will’s miniature hologram swiveled a few times then sat down too.
“Less and less promising,” muttered the falcon, shaking his head.
Then, to the sound of Mr. Cleary humming a sad tune somewhere behind the open front door, the majestic bird spread his speckled dark wings and flew away.
“We’d better talk in the privacy of the forest,” suggested the wolf. “Leave the clock here. It won’t work out there. But bring two shovels… and don’t forget the Waterweed.”
Pointing her paw at the glowing jar peeking from Will’s pocket, the wolf promised to explain everything soon. Then she galloped off down the gloomy, snowy path leading to the frozen pond.
Will followed, stopping only to pick up the shovels from a rusty garden shed. As he rounded the pond he waved to the thin white figure tugging a black hose across the ice. Emmy… Will thought desperately, always Emmy… And he stopped hoping that his mother might notice him for a change and wave back. Up ahead, the wolf leapt into the snowy forest behind the pond and Will rushed after her.
“Where are you?” Will cried into the silence of the tree trunks, which echoed his voice back at him.
Suddenly Will saw his pets.
The wolf and the falcon were lying in the snow not far from Will. They looked dead without any reason to be dead. There was no blood, no weapon, only the fresh snow that was starting to bury the animals as the wind shook the treetops. Without realizing it, Will dropped the shovels and dashed forward, the pit of his stomach turning to stone.
“No!” Will cried, falling in the snow beside his pets.
He started shaking them, first the wolf, then the falcon. “You can’t be dead,” he said desperately. “Deá, Damian. Wake up. It’s not funny. Wake up! Wake up!”
“We’re not dead.” Will suddenly heard Damian’s voice—but the sound came from above.
Will looked up.
A boy of about sixteen was standing not far from Will. The boy’s skin, proud face and curly hair were as dark as coffee. His eyes were darker still, and they glittered with intelligence. He wore shimmering black clothes, and everything about him was see-through, so that Will could see a snowy tree showing right through the boy’s face. It felt like looking through a brown-glassed window.
“Who are you?” marveled Will.
“I’m Damian,” answered the boy, in Damian’s voice. “And this is Deá.”
The see-through boy stepped aside, and a beautiful girl of about fifteen emerged from behind the same tree. Her skin was as white as the snow at her feet, and her shimmering clothes were as white as her skin. Her long hair and large gray eyes were both so pale that for a moment Will thought she was made entirely of mist—like the mist inside his crystal ball clock—especially since the girl, like the boy, was see-through.
The two strange beings exchanged radiant smiles, as if they hadn’t seen each other in years and were trying to make up for lost time. Then the pale girl turned to Will.
“The Waterweed… in your pocket,” she said, in Deá’s voice. “It stopped glowing after I left you. Did you notice?”
Will shook his head, as if in a daze.
“Well, it did,” said the girl. “But now it’s glowing again. Look.” She waited for Will to numbly pull out the jar of luminous leaves from his coat pocket. “Told you. Glowing. We’re still Deá and Damian, Will—but now you’re seeing us in our true forms.”
As if the girl had slapped his face, Will’s sense of reality came back to him.
“My pets.” Will shot to his feet. “What d’you do to them? Bring them back. Bring my wolf and falcon back to life.”
“We can’t,” said the girl sadly, daylight glittering on her beautiful white face like sunshine on a lake. “They’re dead, Will. They’ve been dead for ten years.”
“That’s a lie!” Will dug his fingernails into his fists. “They were talking to me just a few minutes ago!”
The dark boy chuckled. “Animals can’t talk,” he said dryly.
“Yes… Because they weren’t animals at all. Look—” the boy lost his smile “—I know it’s a shock for you, Will. And I wish we had time to discuss this comfortably over milk and cookies—”
“—Oh, how stupid of me!” Will rolled his eyes furiously. “Obviously, my pets just turned into Snow White and the black dwarf. No mystery here.”
The dark boy’s eyes flashed. He was far from a dwarf, but the insult made him stand up even taller. He took a deep breath, as if to keep his anger in check, and tossed back his shimmering black cape. The cloth looked like tar trapped in an hourglass, flowing slowly down from his shoulders to his feet.
“The ceiling in your bedroom leaks,” said the boy. “You keep a bucket on the floor.”
Will gasped. “You’ve been to my room—?”
“—Yesterday,” the boy ignored the interruption, “I stuffed a sock in the new hole under your window. To stop the wind.”
The girl giggled. Her long hair fluttered as she moved; her dress shimmered like melted diamonds. “Haven’t you ever wondered why your wolf was a vegetarian—?”
“—Or why your falcon went with you everywhere, even to school?” The boy kicked snow off his black boots impatiently. “Did you think I enjoyed sitting on the hood of the school bus like an overgrown ornament? Or on the windowsill of your classrooms… watching over you… with all those stupid pigeons cooing at me? Still don’t believe us? All right, ask me something only Damian could know.”
Will felt dazed. How could these see-through strangers know so much about him? Who were they? What were they?
“All right…” Will muttered, glancing down at his dead pets. “All right…” He fought back the sadness that confused him. And then Will’s gaze fell on the falcon’s wing, where an old scar showed white between the dark, speckled feathers. And that gave Will an idea.
“When did Damian meet our school nurse?” Will asked casually.
The dark boy chuckled. “Very sneaky, Will. You know very well I never met Nurse Bell… or Tinker Bell as the students like to call her because she’s so short. The day I cut my wing when the school bus hit a lamppost, you snuck me into the school infirmary when no one was there. Ben kept watch outside. And you covered me in bandages until I looked like a bird in a straitjacket. Thank you for that, by the way.”
Will blinked, astonished. He and Ben had never told anyone about this.
“Now, ask me something,” said the pale girl, almost singing the words.
Will looked at his motionless wolf, wishing he could bend down and wake her with a hug. Instead, he forced himself to think of another trick question.
“What did Deá bring up to my room on my last birthday?”
The girl’s large gray eyes grew hazy as she searched her memory. At last she smiled.
“Not on your birthday. Last spring. When you were sick, and your Dad was away on a book tour. I brought you a sandwich. And you were amazed because you thought—”
“—That my Mom made me something to eat for the first time ever.” Will nodded eagerly. “I forgot all about it, Deá. I thought—”
Will shut his mouth abruptly.
“You called me Deá!” The girl clapped her misty hands soundlessly. “You believe us! You believe us at last!”
Will swallowed hard. Impossible, he thought. And yet he knew that this was the truth, no matter how strange.
* * *
“It’s about time,” sighed Damian, and he walked away, his lucent cape drifting behind him like dark, black fog. He stopped to pick up the two shovels Will had dropped in the snow.
“We have to bury our animal selves,” said Damian quietly, and he started digging beneath the shadow of a stately cedar.
A deep silence fell over the three of them, and the sound of the wind grew loud above the trees. Will couldn’t believe it was happening. He couldn’t believe that he would never see his wolf and falcon alive again. But he felt stupid, because they weren’t really dead.
To stop the tears stinging his eyes, Will picked up the second shovel and cleared away a circle of frost a few feet from Damian. Deá came to stand between them, and suddenly Will noticed crystal drops falling at Deá’s feet, like beautifully polished hail.
Will looked up, a little shyly because the see-through girl was so beautiful, and he saw that Deá was crying frozen teardrops.
“What kind of people are you?” asked Will, starting to dig the second grave to keep himself from staring at the girl.
Damian’s shovel struck the frozen ground with a clang. “First, promise you’ll never repeat what we tell you,” he said sharply
“Promise? Why?” asked Will suspiciously.
Damian’s glance darted anxiously to Deá. “A small matter of risking our lives.”
Will’s shovel froze in midair. “Your lives…” He still felt protective towards Deá and Damian, even if they weren’t his pets anymore. “All right, I promise. I won’t even tell Ben.”
“Good,” snapped Damian. “Unless you want your best friend to die because of you.”
“Die? Because of me? What d’you mean?”
But Damian shook his dark head infuriatingly. “No more questions. Dig. Shut up. Then I’ll explain.”
“You can’t just say something like that and tell me to shut up,” Will snapped back.
“I can if you want to get anything more out of me.”
“Damian!” Deá stomped her shimmering white boot, though it made no sound nor raised any snow drift.
Damian started digging furiously, his shovel banging against the frozen ground. Will expected Deá to take over explaining everything, which would have been a relief, but the girl seemed happy just to watch Damian and see what he would do next.
“Deá and I come from another realm,” the dark boy said finally.
“From outer space?” Will nodded. Finally things were starting to make sense.
But Damian raised a haughty eyebrow. “I said from another realm, not another planet! Just dig and listen.” He waited for Will to obey.
“Beneath the North Pole…” the boy resumed, “…and areas down to the 50˚ North latitude. Underground, I mean… there are other lands. Places a lot like here. There’s light, for example. Trees, mountains, lakes.” Damian kept digging, and his breath was coming in gasps. “There are animals too. And people. Cities, villages… Deá and I come from one of these lands. We… everyone who lives there… we’re called …ekos.”
Will wasn’t sure he heard right. “You’re Geckos?” he asked, not trying to be funny. It was just that Deá and Damian had lived in a wolf and falcon for so long, and he had no idea what else they could do.
Damian smiled wryly, his coffee eyes glinting with amusement. “Not Geckos, you idiot. Echoes! As in a sound and an echo.”
Will smiled in embarrassment, and it didn’t help to hear Deá giggling beside him.
“Have you ever looked in a mirror and wondered if your reflection was actually another person?” the girl asked.
Will took a moment to consider his answer, and he kept digging, ignoring a stinging blister forming in his palm. “You mean alive?” he asked finally.
“Poor Will.” Deá giggled again. “This is all going to sound really strange.”
“Stranger than you two living in my pets?” Will muttered, more to himself than anyone.
“’Fraid so,” said Deá, without giggling this time. “Like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Though maybe you’ve seen it… some of it… in your nightmares…?”
But Will had never seen the creatures shrieking in his nightmares. He always seemed to wake up a second before the walls of his room cracked open in the dream.
“They’re real… those things in my nightmares?” he stammered.
“Oh! They’re real,” said Damian. And he wasn’t smiling anymore.
“They’re Echoes,” said Deá. “Like us.”
“But what are you?” asked Will.
“Think of the beginning of an Echo as a bubble of air,” said Deá, “or gas, actually.”
“Gas?” Without thinking, Will scrunched his nose like a kid making a silly joke.
“Oh! How hilarious,” snapped Damian, driving his shovel harder at the ground.
“There’s more to life on earth than you realize, Will,” Deá went on explaining. “Every time something in your world comes to life, gas is released into the air. It happens at the same time. Two forms of life come into existence together. A Sound and an Echo. And the Echo is made of gas. But it’s not ordinary gas. This gas is alive. It’s a living being. And it looks like a reflection.”
“Of what?” asked Will, finally starting to begin to understand.
“Of whatever released the living gas into the air. If the gas came to life when a flower began to grow, then the gas-being will look exactly like the flower. And it will grow like the flower, open up its petals, bloom… just like the flower. If the gas came to life when a tree sprouted, then the gas-being will be a tree. And if the gas came to life when a human was born…”
“Then the gas being will be a human,” said Will, hardly noticing the pile of snow the wind had just dropped on his head. “And you and Damian are reflections? Gas-beings, I mean.”
“Echoes.” Deá nodded. “And we come from the realm of the Echoes. The place where all reflections live.”
“So this is the Sound realm?” said Will, not really digging anymore. “I mean, that’s what you call us… me?” And suddenly a thought blazed through Will’s mind, the way a flashlight beam can suddenly light up a doorway. “Hold on!” he added. “That means I have an Echo. A reflection of me. A gas-being that looks just like—”
But before Will could ask if his nightmares had something to do with his reflection… and if Emmy’s disappearance was also connected to it… Before Will could ask any of it, he suddenly noticed a deep, dark grave gaping in the snow where Damian had been digging.
The dark boy was gone. As Will turned around to look for him, he spotted Damian standing with his back to him and Deá, the Echo’s shimmering black cape billowing like a storm. A moment later Damian turned, and Will saw that he was carrying the body of the white wolf with the speckled falcon resting on her chest.
As Damian drew near, Will saw a muscle pulsing in the Echo’s dark, see-through cheek, as if he was clenching his jaw. Will looked away, feeling intimidated by this brooding boy that was probably just a few years older than he was, but who looked so much like a warrior.
It was Deá who moved toward Damian first, reaching her see-through misty hand to comb away a cluster of fur from the wolf’s tail. She gave it to Will, who was suddenly feeling the tears pricking his eyes again. He looked at the ground to keep Damian from seeing him crying, and saw the Echo’s dark hand extending a speckled feather to him without a sound.
Then the funeral just happened, without any of them telling the other what to do. They lowered the pets into the deep grave Damian had dug, and Will realized that Damian was just trying to keep him busy before, making Will dig a second grave to stop him asking questions. It was clear the wolf and falcon belonged together in a single grave.
Looking down into the grave, Will thought of his crystal ball clock and the falling numbers that rained inside it and disappeared as if Time was dying. He tucked away the fur and feather without taking his eyes off the dark hole where his childhood pets where lying, as if this was all some nightmare Will was trapped in. Except that it wasn’t a nightmare. It was worse. It was real.
And then a swirling feeling of drowning came over Will, as if the grave was some deep, dark pond calling him to plunge inside. And Will wanted to, because up here where he stood in the cold light of day Will felt as if his heart would break and rain down like the disappearing numbers in the crystal ball clock. Just as the days and years of Will’s life had rained down, every new day washing away the hope that Emmy would ever return. She couldn’t return, Will knew that. No more than Deá and Damian could. His pets, not the Echoes… Will meant his pets… But his pets had been the Echoes….
Will shook his head. A haze of tears was blinding him. He started pacing the frozen forest floor that crackled under his feet as if threatening to collapse. He tried to think of more questions to ask the strangers who used to be his favorite beings in the whole world. He looked at the Echoes and thought, Deá and Damian aren’t dead. Only their bodies are different. And then, like a lightning bolt flashing through a dark night, a question shot through Will’s sadness and confusion.
“How long did you live inside my wolf and falcon?” Will asked breathlessly.
Damian was already shoveling earth back into the open grave. He looked up, smiling mirthlessly with his see-through, coffee lips, like some strange coca cola ice sculpture.
“Ten years,” he said, with that ironic curve of his lips to one side. “And before you start showing off your brilliant mathematical deductions, let me explain something. I wasn’t six years old when I entered the falcon, and Deá wasn’t five. We were the same age we are today. An Echo living in a Sound doesn’t age.”
“Doesn’t age? You mean… you live forever?”
Damian shook his head. “An Echo living inside a Sound weakens gradually and eventually will die. You can actually see how weak Deá and I are… just look at the transparency of our skin. Normally, we shouldn’t be more see-through than our clothes. Now, help me finish! There’s a lot more you need to hear, Will, and we’re running out of time.”