A Grave Tree
Book Three in the exciting Derivatives of Displacement series
Coming November 17, 2015
**A Grave Tree is available at the special price of 99 cents for the pre-order period only.***
To know, to will, to dare, to keep silent…
Abbey’s parents are still missing, possibly trapped in a parallel universe, and the adults around her won't give her any answers. So when she and Caleb once again travel to a possible future—one in which Coventry City is very much not as it should be—it’s up to them, and their neighbour Mark, to try to find her parents and set things right.
But it won’t be that easy. Abbey and Caleb become separated, the stones themselves seem to be breaking down, Mark encounters odd ghosts and his half-sister Sandy beneath the Granton Dam, Ian and Sylvain continue to lead them astray, and a powerful witch named Quinta is reshaping the futures to mysterious ends.
To save the future—or at least get everyone home—science-minded Abbey may have to perform magic. And to do so, she will have to believe…
~ Acceleration is the 2nd derivative of displacement.
Acceleration is the rate of change of velocity. ~
Chapter 1 – Ghost in the Machine
Abbey stared out the window at the torrential rain that pummeled Sylvain’s small cabin west of Coventry. Farley sat beside her and let out low whines every few minutes, as if she might have forgotten that he was there and had not yet been walked. Caleb, evidently not nearly as gloomy as Abbey about missing school again this week, sat on the couch staring at his phone. Mark typed away on his computer at the desk in the corner, no doubt researching isogons, maps of constant magnetic declination, which he had told Abbey about rather relentlessly over lunch. Sylvain busied himself with dinner preparations in the elegant country kitchen; the cabin, while small, was extremely well appointed.
“Well, I guess I’m just going to have to walk you by myself, then,” Abbey said loudly to Farley.
“Have fun,” Caleb said. She could see that he was rather intently snapchatting with someone, and she caught a glimpse of Anna Andrews’s lustrous mahogany hair. Russell, Anna’s older brother, had been up to deliver supplies to the cabin several times over the past three weeks, always regarding Abbey with his hungry, almost feral, pale blue eyes.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Sylvain said. “I’m in the middle of making a roux. I can’t leave right now.”
He emerged from the kitchen wearing his long white chef’s apron over his tall, spindly body. The first time Abbey had seen the apron, she’d been forced to stifle a laugh. Sylvain spent much of his time at the cabin hunching over bubbling sauces and caramelizing onions. Whatever complaints they might lodge regarding their extended isolation, they couldn’t claim they weren’t being well fed. Mark, who apparently preferred that different foods not touch each other, ever, except in sandwich form, would probably beg to differ.
“I’ll just go by myself,” Abbey said. “You’re tracking me anyway.”
She held up her phone, on which Sylvain had installed a tracking device so he would know where they were. There was little need for it, as he hadn’t let them out of his sight in several weeks. He even insisted that they all go together on their Farley walks.
To make matters worse, all of the windows and doors had sensors on them, and if opened, they would emit a beep that would alert everyone in the cabin to someone’s departure or arrival. They were essentially in a prison, albeit a fairly comfortable one. Fortunately Sylvain had not taken away their Internet access. But they were under strict orders to tell everyone that they had gone to New York on a family vacation—except Simon, of course, who would still be at the detention center down in Coventry for a few more weeks.
“Don’t worry. It’s pouring. I’m just going to go down the trail about a hundred meters. Farley has to get out. You wouldn’t want him to have an accident in the cabin, would you?” Abbey raised her eyebrows at Sylvain.
Sylvain’s eyes widened, and she saw his pupils flick in the direction of the fluffy white sheepskin rugs that adorned the cherry hardwood floors. “Very well,” he said. “Don’t go further than a hundred meters, and come right back, or we’ll have to come and look for you.”
Abbey put on her raincoat, trying not to roll her eyes, while Farley skittered around her, hopping and howling with joy, his claws clicking on the floors. Sylvain was probably cringing in the kitchen at the sound.
Abbey didn’t know why she couldn’t just go outside alone. This commitment to togetherness—ever since her mother had gone off in search of her father, who had gone who knows where—was beginning to wear a bit. It wasn’t as if Abbey could go anywhere. They were in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a nondescript dirt road that wound its way up the hill and through the woods off the Granton Dam Road. They were at least twenty kilometers away from Coventry, and the only means of transport available was Sylvain’s Jag. He couldn’t possibly think she would steal that. Although, technically, she supposed they had stolen it before—but she hadn’t driven it.
Thinking about her parents caused Abbey to tear up a bit. Her dad had said he would be gone for a few days, and her mother had said they would be staying with Sylvain for a week, tops. But that was three weeks ago, and there had been no sign of Marian Beckham or Peter Sinclair since. Despite Abbey’s pestering, Sylvain refused to offer any information about where they had gone and what might have happened.
She opened the door to the sound of the loud beep from the alarm system. Ocean, Mark’s cat, strolled over to the door and marched out, but stopped immediately and shook her now-soaked paws in surprise before turning around and galloping back inside. Farley took off like a shot into the trees, his brown form only barely visible in the deepening afternoon gloom. The dampness assaulted Abbey as soon as she stepped outside; raindrops ran in rivulets off her hood and somehow found their way down her neck and into her hair.
She jumped when the cabin door opened and closed again behind her.
“Daily exercise is important for good health,” Mark announced as he joined Abbey on the stoop. Abbey wasn’t sure whether it was the daily Farley walks, their previous adventures, or Mark’s trepidation regarding Sylvain’s cooking, but Mark had grown leaner and more muscular in the last few weeks. A few months ago, being alone with Mark would have scared Abbey a bit—with his Asperger’s, he could be unpredictable and moody—but now she found it comforting.
She wondered if he planned to provide more thoughts with regard to isogons, but he remained silent as they trudged down the muddy path following Farley. The rain was apparently not a deterrent for small forest critters, or Farley, and soon the Chesapeake Bay retriever was barreling back and forth on the path in front of them, barking and stalking birds and squirrels.
Cold seeped through Abbey’s rain jacket, and her sneaker-clad feet were soon soaked. They had reached what Abbey judged to be the hundred-meter mark on the trail, and Abbey was about to call Farley back when Mark cried out behind her.
She spun around to see Mark’s bulky body hurtling the last few feet toward her. For a moment she was certain he would launch up into her arms and cling there as if the forest floor were covered with snakes; she checked quickly to make sure it was not.
“Something,” he said and then stopped, his arms raised and open palms hovering over his ears. He seemed about to drop into one of his protective crouches with his hands pressed against the sides of his head. He stood there frozen for a few seconds, like a paused movie, or a record player with the needle caught in a groove, then evidently having fought the urge to fall to his knees, he let out a giant exhale and started talking in a jerky monotone. “There’s something in the trees back there. Something white… I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in ghosts.” He said this last as if it was a mantra that would vanquish any potential lingering phantoms.
“What are you saying, Mark? Did you see a ghost?”
“I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in ghosts.” Mark rocked back and forth on his feet and flailed his hands around near his ears.
Rain pattered on the leaves, and Farley still thundered through the bushes several meters away, apparently oblivious to their spectral visitor, if indeed there was a spectral visitor. But the birds, which had been trilling despite the downpour just a few seconds before, had gone strangely silent.
Did she believe in ghosts? Scientifically, there was no evidence to support the existence of ghosts. But the existence of black holes hadn’t been definitively proven either, and she believed in them. There was also the fact that every hair on the back of her neck was standing up, and it was taking all her will not to scream and abandon Mark and Farley while she bolted back to the cabin—except that would take her in the direction of the ghost, even though she didn’t believe in ghosts.
She reached one hand up, grasped Mark’s fist, and pulled his arm down, so they were standing with their shoulders pressed together facing the path that would lead them back to the cabin. Mark stiffened but stopped rocking.
“Are you sure you saw a ghost?” she said.
Mark nodded violently with his eyes closed. Rivers of rain flowed down his face, and his brown hair was caked onto his cheeks. “Just… back… there,” he said.
“Farley,” she called. “Farley! Come this instant.”
The dog, not keen on having his romp cut short, turned and eyeballed her as if to assess the likelihood that she would enforce her command. She must have appeared suitably fierce and threatening because he began to saunter toward them slowly, wearing only a mildly obstinate look and stopping to sniff a tuft of grass or two on his way. A meter away from them, he lurched to attention, started to growl, and shot past them into the trees, barking, the whites of his teeth stark against his dark brown muzzle. The sea of green shrubbery vibrated and swayed as he ran through it.
“Farley! No!” Abbey yelled.
The dog ignored her and plunged on. Then Abbey saw it: a filmy white figure walking determinedly through the trees away from them. Farley leapt, growling with furious determination, and sailed right through the apparition. A second ghost appeared several meters away from the first, and the two shapes met, their transparent edges coalescing and then separating as they moved farther off into the trees with Farley in hot pursuit.
The thud of footsteps echoed down the path, and Sylvain, still in his white apron, materialized, followed by a concerned-looking Caleb.
“Sorry. We saw something in the woods,” Abbey said. “We thought it was a ghost. Two ghosts.”
Farley scrambled around in the bushes, still barking.
Sylvain and Caleb whirled to look in the direction Abbey pointed, but the ghosts had vanished. Sylvain stopped running, his long legs slowly losing their momentum. “Are you sure? The fog can play tricks on you, the way it gathers and rises in the trees when it rains.”
Abbey scowled, her courage returning now that she and Mark were no longer alone in the woods. Maybe the togetherness thing wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Mark’s body, still touching hers, had started to tremble almost violently. “I’m sure. They’re gone now. But they were white and ghostly and human-formed, and Farley jumped right through one of them. Maybe they weren’t ghosts, but they weren’t normal, and they certainly weren’t fog, unless fog can walk around now.”
Sylvain scanned the woods, his brow furrowed in confusion. At first Abbey had thought that maybe the ghosts were some form of witchcraft the adults had yet to share with them, but Sylvain seemed just as confused as she did. Caleb had already started to wade through the undergrowth in the direction of Farley, calling out to him. The almost wild dog ran around in a few more circles, baying his displeasure before finally submitting to Caleb’s orders to come.
Sylvain shook his head. “I don’t know, but we’d better go inside.”
“Was it…?” Abbey hesitated.
“Witchcraft?” Sylvain said. “Possibly. But I don’t know. Either way, we’d best get inside.” Sylvain turned and headed down the path, and Mark followed so closely that he was nearly on Sylvain’s back.
Caleb looked at Abbey and shrugged, then hooked his fingers into Farley’s collar and started to drag him back through the woods to the path. The dog continued to stare and lob growls in the direction the ghosts had gone.
Abbey shuddered and beat a hasty retreat herself. No need to be out in the rain with specters.
Sylvain tried to be chipper over a dinner of beef stroganoff with a sherry demi-glaze and filo-wrapped asparagus, but the visitor had obviously spooked him. Farley lay across the threshold of the door and, aside from scarfing down his dinner with his usual gusto, refused to move from the spot, even to take up his usual place by the fire. Mark ate only small amounts of his plain noodles and sauce-free meat. The rain continued to pound on the cabin roof, and Abbey rather wondered if they might end up careening down the mountainside in an avalanche of mud and trees.
“So what was it?” Caleb said finally, bluntly breaking up Sylvain’s talk of the weather and of repairs to his old stone mansion, which Selena, Nate, and Damian blew up a few weeks ago.
Sylvain shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ve never heard of ghosts before, or anything resembling ghosts in our realm of witchcraft. Of course, there are many in the non-witching world who believe in ghosts. Maybe they do exist and have nothing to do with us.”
“Maybe,” Abbey said.
“I may have to go and retrieve some of the old texts I keep stored in the vault in my library and see if there are any references,” Sylvain said with a careful smile. “I’m sure it’s all fine.”
“Right. That’s why we’re holed up in the woods and our parents and Mrs. Forrester have vanished. Why aren’t we even looking for them?” Abbey said.
The smile slipped from Sylvain’s lips. “Your parents were quite clear. They don’t want you getting involved. More salad?”
Abbey ignored the butter lettuce and crumbled blue cheese that Sylvain proffered, his long thin fingers wrapped around the cheery ceramic bowl. “Right, instead they want us to live a normal life in a little cabin away from all suggestion of civilization?”
“I’m sure this is only temporary,” Sylvain said. “Until they…”
“Until they what? Come back?” Abbey spat the words. “What if they don’t come back?” Her eyes flooded with tears, which she blinked back ferociously.
“Abbey’s right,” Caleb said. “We have a right to know what’s going on.”
Sylvain set down the salad bowl. “If your parents don’t return, your mother has made arrangements for you. There is a trust fund, and you are to go live with her cousin Monica in California. I believe she is your Great-Aunt Marge’s daughter. I will deliver you there myself. Mark will stay…” Sylvain paused and then continued, “with me. But I assure you, your parents will return. They are very capable, and I have the utmost faith in them.”
Abbey rose from the table, bristling with frustration, and was about to say something scathing when Farley erupted into barks and began running back and forth maniacally in front of the door.
A sharp knock cut through Farley’s agitated noise. Sylvain leapt up from the table and peered through the curtain onto the front stoop. Then he let the curtain fall and reached over Farley to open the door.
Ian stood on the threshold, his hands thrust deep into his pockets and his beret sodden and a deep shade of tan.
Farley stopped his crazed barking and ran at Ian, his tail wagging euphorically, no doubt looking for Digby the rat. Farley had shown a great interest in Digby, and although Ian believed this heralded the start of a great friendship, Abbey rather suspected Farley actually wanted to toss Digby in the air and shake him like a beach ball.
“Glorious evening for a stroll,” Ian announced. “I don’t suppose I could trouble you for a spot of coffee and a sit by the fire.”