Monday, July 27th
Upstate NY, my grandfather’s cabin

Near the end of July, my time at camp was over without the little luck talking to girls I’d from the prior year, but having had a good time. I’d had a couple of quiet days at my grandfather’s cabin. I couldn’t shake a certain unease about being on my own a lot during the coming school year — with Joel away and Anne busy with college applications — but it seemed like it would be a nice break for a few weeks going into August.

That changed with one phone call; my dad picked up. After a moment, he said, “Mark, it’s for you,” and he looked worried.

It was Anne’s mother on the phone. “There’s been an accident,” she said. “Anne was out running in the morning, and she was hit by a truck.”

“Oh no!” I said, or something stronger to that effect. “Is she going to be alright?”

“It’s too soon to know. We’re with her at the hospital.”

“Is there anything we can do?”

“She’s resting now, but she was asking about you. She’s likely to be here for a while, and I know it would mean a lot if you could come visit in the next few days.”

“Of course, Mrs. Adler. Can I put my dad back on? He’ll be the one to drive me there.”

They talked for a little while. After the call, my dad told me, “I think this sounds serious, and that we should drive down to the city tonight. With traffic, it will be too late to make visiting hours, but what do you say we spend the night at home and go visit first thing in the morning?”

We didn’t talk much on the drive down, and when we got in, we called Anne’s mother at the hospital. It sounded like she was still resting, and that there was no change in her condition, so we ordered a pizza, and I went to bed worried.

In the morning, my father called the hospital room to see how she was doing and whether we could come visit. There was no answer when the switchboard put him through to the room, so he called her house. I only heard his half of the conversation, but from the “I’m so sorry,” it was very clear that things had gotten worse. It did not occur to me what he actually was hearing. When he got off the phone, my father looked tireder than I could remember seeing him.

“Mark,” he said, “Anne passed away overnight. That was her grandmother who was watching the house while her parents were at the hospital.”

“How did that happen?” I asked. “It sounded like she was going to be OK yesterday; healthy people our age don’t just die.”

“I don’t know, Mark. Her grandmother didn’t say how.”

If I hadn’t already been sitting down, I would have needed to. “That’s just not possible. She is one of the healthiest people I know. How do you just die overnight if you’re fine after the accident?”

“I don’t know exactly what happened, but her mom said she’d be in the hospital for a while, right? They don’t keep people in the hospital any longer than they have to without a good reason.”

The rest of that day and the next few were a bit of a blur; we talked to her mom later in the day, and I was asked to pass the news to her close friends at school to let them know about the memorial service. I talked to Joel, and digging up a class directory, I called one of the girls in my year who was on the softball team with Anne. She’d send word on to the rest of their team, and the softball girls in Anne’s year would know how to reach the rest of her friends.

The memorial service was on Saturday; a lot of people from school turned out. While waiting for the service, my dad and I heard what had happened — the accident had damaged the big artery leading out of her heart, which had started to rupture overnight. They’d tried surgery, but it failed to save her.

My dad and I sat with Joel’s family; it was a nice service, with a bunch of her relatives sharing memories of her, and the captain of the softball team said a few words as well. I was really surprised that her mom mentioned me in her remarks, referring to me as “Anne’s oldest friend.”

Afterwards, there was a reception at their house; my dad and I went, as did a few of Anne’s close friends from her class and I think their parents, but Joel and his family didn’t go. I didn’t know anyone else there besides my dad, Anne’s folks, and her grandmother. I’d been to funerals for a couple of really old family members I hadn’t known well, but nobody I’d really known had died, let alone someone my own age. It felt sad, awkward, and when Anne’s mother took the time to speak to me, I really did not know what to say, so I stuck with what my dad had suggested before we went in.

“I’m so sorry for your loss, Mrs. Adler,” I said. She looked sad and far away, and for someone who was younger than my folks, very old.

“Thank you, Mark,” she said. “It means a lot to have you here. She always missed you over the summers. When you were away in seventh grade, too.”

“I never knew that,” I said. We’d gone to my grandfather’s cabin upstate pretty much every summer, except when my parent’s academic careers had taken us elsewhere - most notably when I’d lost a year between sixth and seventh grade. She’d always done more to keep in touch than I had, and I suddenly felt terrible about that. “I wish we could have gotten to the city sooner.”

“It’s OK, Mark. She was already resting,” her voice broke up, and she took a moment before she said, “the doctors tell us there is nothing more anyone could have done.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said again. It was getting repetitive, but I really didn’t know what else to say.

She patted me on the shoulder. “When we first got to the hospital to see her, she asked us to check in on you to make sure you were OK while she was there. She cared about you an awful lot, and you’ve been friends for such a long time.”

“I know, Mrs. Adler,” I said. “She’s been like a sister to me.” ...had been? That she was gone still felt very much less than real.

“That’s probably what it was, Mark, but I’ve wondered for a long time if it was more than that for her.”

I did not know what to say to that, and I wasn’t sure I got what she meant. Even more so, I wasn’t expecting what she said next: “I half expected you two would end up dating one of these days.”

I shook my head and kept from saying the first thing that came to mind, she really didn’t see me that way! I’m not sure that she was the one I’d have been trying to convince. Instead, I just said “I don’t know, but I miss her very badly. I’m so sorry.”

“We all miss her,” she said, and when she moved off to speak to someone else, I felt even more alone than I had.

Sat, August 1
Lassander, Kingdom of Obdrest
The King’s private study

Phillip Marius, better known to his nation as Phillip V, and to the world as King of Obdrest, felt every one of his 71 years. He had never wanted the crown, and with two older brothers, two nephews, and a positive horde of his brothers’ grandchildren - not to mention great-grandchildren, he’d never expected to be. But the past few years had seen one death after another.

Today, he was sitting in his study, waiting for the phone to ring. Not literally; he had one half of a pair of magic mirrors. They couldn’t be tapped, could be taken anywhere, and you could see the speaker, but it was close enough. His was face down for privacy, and soon enough, it spoke - muffled by speaking into the table: “Good afternoon, your majesty!”

He turned the mirror over and propped it on a book. “Good morning, Dormer.” The gate was six hours behind Obdrest, and it was just past dawn there; the younger man looked far too cheerful for the hour. “I take it you have good news about Christina’s son?”

“I do, Your Majesty. Prince Joel passed the entrance examination,” said Dormer, “and his father has agreed to let him come here for the year. I think that will be long enough to convince him to stay.”

“Thank you, Dormer. I don’t suppose we know for sure how a 16-year-old boy will react to all this, but you’ve got the best sense of him. Are the security arrangements sound?”

“My counterpart from the Americans is an old veteran, Your Majesty. I think you’d like him, and I’m learning by his example. The Feldarenese security services seem solid as well,” here Dormer paused a moment, “I’d be happier if Joel could stay at our ambassador’s residence, but they make a good point about the difficulty in keeping his identity confidential there.”

“One I agree with, and not just in case he decides to return to his world,” said Philip. “I can’t prove that someone was behind the deaths of Louis and Brinna, and I certainly can’t put a name to them, but I am firmly convinced that we have an enemy who can reach past our best security here. Let Joel enjoy his first year here in as much peace as he can.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Speaking of keeping him safe, keep an eye out for my sister-in-law, or someone working for her.”

“What is your concern about the Duchess of Lassander?”

“I hope it’s nothing, but Sophie is too perceptive by half. She means well, but she has a terrible blind spot for her family.”


About the author


  • California, USA

Bio: Amateur SF/fantasy writer. Professional computer geek. Something of a grouchy old man, but mostly harmless.

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