A Pair of Docks
Book One in the exciting Derivatives of Displacement series
Middle-grade science fiction fantasy for all ages
#1 Amazon Best Seller - Children's Time Travel Fiction
"Wow, just wow. I really enjoyed this book." Online BookClub Review
Praise for A Pair of Docks
“Exquisite, marvellous, fantastically scientific. I adored reading every bit of this book, including night shifts and this didn't happen since the time of Harry Potter…I found it incredible the crescendo of the characters as the story unfolded and the detail chronicled to uphold the timeline.” Amazon 5 star review
“This was a great book. It is billed as a young adult/middle school book, but I loved it. Abbey is adorable and wonderfully geeky. All three siblings are easily relatable and wonderful characters.” Amazon 5 star review
“With smooth, flawless writing, Ellis takes readers on a time travel adventure that is both clever and captivating. "A Pair of Docks" contains hints of dystopia and witchcraft that is scientifically grounded - concluding with an ending that is satisfying but not complete.” Goodreads 5 star review
“This is definitely one of the books you should read this year.” Grade 5 student book report
Fourteen-year-old Abbey Sinclair likes to spend her afternoons in the physics lab learning about momentum and gravitational pull. But Abbey's practical scientific mind is put to the test when her older brother, Simon, discovers a mysterious path of stones that allows them, along with Abbey's twin brother, Caleb, to travel back and forth between their world and what appears to be...the future.
Unfortunately, they're not the only ones who know about these stones, and they soon realize their lives are in danger from a man known only as Mantis. Now Abbey, Caleb and Simon must follow a twisting trail of clues that will lead them from their autistic neighbor, Mark, to a strange professor who claims to know the rules of the stones, and to multiple futures—some of whose inhabitants don't want to stay put.
It will take all of Abbey's analytical skills to unravel the secrets of the stones, uncover the threads that tie the futures together, thwart Mantis's plan, and, most importantly, keep her family alive—now and in the future.
A Pair of Docks explores Einstein's Theory of Relativity, the meaning of time, the potential for parallel universes, and the boundary between science and witchcraft. It is the first in the Derivatives of Displacement series.
Chapter 1 – Coventry Hill
Abbey added the last valence shell to her ionic bonding diagram of sodium chloride and paused to listen. Instead of the usual clack, clack, clack of Simon’s computer keyboard, the clatter of containers of metallic objects being overturned and drawers being opened and closed echoed down the hallway.
Abbey moved on to covalent bonds.
Simon sauntered past her and down to the crypt, their joking name for their dark and uninviting basement of the split-level rancher they shared with their parents and Abbey's twin, Caleb. The sound of storage bins being dragged across the floor drifted up the stairs.
Simon returned to the kitchen and went to the fridge where he filled two water bottles and made four salami-and-lettuce sandwiches, wrapping each sandwich methodically in wax paper.
“What are you doing?” Abbey asked.
“Running away,” Simon said.
“None of your business.” His eyes, so blue they bordered on purple, met hers unflinchingly. Her heart skittered a little. He pulled his black toque over his head.
“I’m going out,” he said. “To a friend’s. Tell Mom I’ll be home by eight.”
“But…” Abbey started, the words “you don’t have any friends” dying on her lips.
Simon lifted his chin slightly as if to challenge her, and then took his sandwiches and water bottles and descended the stairs. The basement door slammed.
Abbey drew five valence electrons for nitrogen before placing her pencil against the top of her notebook. Simon never went out after school. She rose and went to the picture window in the living room. The speckled grey of the empty road curved away from their drive and descended into town. She crossed the living room to the window that looked out onto the base of Coventry Hill, the small wooded mountain area that abutted their home on the edge of the town, and saw Simon’s black toque disappearing up the path into the afghan of green.
Abbey grabbed her new pink and orange American Eagle cardigan and slipped on her sneakers. She eyeballed Farley, their Chesapeake Bay Retriever, curled in a circle on his bed in the living room. Farley would probably eat Mrs. Forrester’s fish fertilizer again. Best to leave him behind. She paused on the doorstep. How long would this take, really? Not long, she hoped. But who knew when her parents would be home? She thrust her key into the lock, turned it, and headed across the street.
The back of Caleb’s grey t-shirt, Levis, and blue and tan Adidas sneakers stuck out from underneath Mrs. Forrester’s camellia bush. Mrs. Forrester’s autistic adult son, Mark, waved wildly at her from inside the house. Mark’s stares gave Abbey a riff of unease deep in her gut. She waved back and checked her watch. Four o’clock. Still time. She had to finish her Chem 12 lab before dinner.
“Cale?” she said.
Her twin’s brilliant red head popped out from under the glossy green leaves.
“Simon packed a bunch of stuff, including food, and said he was going to a friend’s. Then he took off up Coventry Hill.”
“Our Simon? Simon Sinclair, who never leaves his computer lair, has gone hiking?”
“We’d better go after him.”
“What? We’re going to stalk our older brother? What if he’s on a date?”
“There’s something wrong, Cale. He packed too much stuff and I saw Russell Andrews pushing him around again today. He looked even worse than usual. I’m worried.”
Caleb cocked his head to the side and shrugged, his quintessential gesture. Caleb shrugged at everything, whereas Abbey stomped. She wondered if it was some weird yin and yang of body parts that developed in utero. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The girls at school thought Caleb was a laid-back surfer kind of dude, which apparently they found wildly attractive, and Caleb played up the persona. They probably thought he was dumb, but Abbey knew his shrugs meant that he was thinking, that he always liked to consider the situation, and looking like a silent jock bought him time.
“I’m going after him,” Abbey continued, “and I need you to come with me.”
Caleb shrugged again but nodded, placing his clippers next to the bin of garden waste.
“Don’t you think we should text Mom instead? I’m on the clock.”
“Mom’s too busy. The election is in a week. Besides, what are we going to say? Simon went hiking? She would think that was lovely or some stupid thing.” Abbey loved her mother, but she was even more laid back than Caleb, and had some strange ideas about the importance of time outside in nature. Half the time, Abbey felt like Simon’s mother, even though he was two years older.
Abbey turned and marched to the edge of the cul-de-sac that led to the hill. Mark banged the window with his fist as they left, yelling something at them. Mark yelled lots. It was frightening to see a large man with dark stubble and hunched shoulders throw his body around like that. There was a lot of mass there. Momentum equals mass times velocity, Abbey whispered in her mind, her stupid brainiac mind-feed, as her brothers called it, always running. Abbey tried not to imagine Mark hurtling through the window. Acceleration due to gravity equals nine point eight meters per second squared. Abbey shivered slightly in the fall air.
“What’s up with Mark today?” she said, thumbing her hand at the window. “He’s even more agitated than usual.”
Caleb elevated his eyebrows as if to indicate he did not know.
Abbey started up the path, her legs already feeling fatigued. Perhaps she ought to stop skipping PE to go to the chemistry lab. Caleb fell into an easy step beside her. She peered through the dense foliage. The intertwining greens of tree and bush made her eyes cross.
“I heard Russell telling Simon outside homeroom this morning that he better not let him down. Russell looked really mad. Something’s up.”
Caleb’s fingers closed around Abbey’s arm while she spoke, and he pulled her into the bushes with his finger to his lips, the freckled finger of his other hand extended.
A few hundred meters away, Simon was crawling around on the forest floor in front of a rosebush dotted with pink flowers, groping at something on the ground like a blind person. And as if this weren’t enough, there was a frantic urgency to his movements that alarmed Abbey.
“What is he doing? Is he hurt? We should go help him,” Abbey hissed.
Caleb didn’t move, and maintained his grip on her arm.
Abbey turned and glared at him, trying to wrench away. What if Simon had taken drugs or something and was sick? She couldn’t imagine him doing that, but she knew other kids at school did. What if Simon had finally capitulated? She tried to push Caleb’s hand away, but he outweighed her by about forty pounds. Unlike Simon, who remained reed-thin, Caleb had already started working out at the gym. She swatted at him. Then he went strangely bug-eyed, let go of her arm, and lurched to his feet.
Abbey spun around.
Simon was gone.
Caleb launched up the hill. Abbey chased after her twin, searching the trees for her older brother.
“Where did he go?” Abbey asked, her voice tight and wan with the exertion.
“He just vanished.”
“That’s impossible. He must have wandered off somewhere.” She faced into the trees and called out a defiant, “Simon! Si! It’s us. It’s Abbey and Caleb.” Her words came out as a tinny wail.
Caleb tugged at her arm again, his normally dancing green eyes deadly earnest. “Ab, I’m not kidding you. He was there one second, and then he was gone.”
Bile rose into her throat. People did not just disappear. It was theoretically impossible.
“Look!” Caleb said, as they skidded to a stop where they’d last seen Simon. He pointed at the base of the flowered bush. Square stones embedded in the ground poked out from under the thorny bramble, their browns and greys blending into the dirt. Caleb raked his hands through his hair and lifted his shoulders in his customary shrug. “I dunno. This rosebush isn’t wild. I heard this area was an old town site at the turn of the century when they were mining up here. Maybe there’s an old foundation or well hidden underneath here… Maybe he fell.”
“How could he have fallen through that bush? It’s massive,” Abbey said. The bush towered overhead and spanned at least twelve feet in diameter, its spiny branches reaching toward them in a wild spray of thorns. An unusual tree with a shiny green trunk and red papery bark grew up out of the center of the bush.
“I’m going to crawl under that lower vine and take a look.”
“What if you fall too?”
“I’ll keep my hands on solid ground at all times and inch forward. No chance of me falling.” Caleb sank to his knees and began to crawl forward. “Si? Simon? Are you there?” Caleb ducked his head under the rose vine and tried to look further into the green mass.
Abbey strained her eyes at the thorny bramble, listening for any response from Simon.
Then Caleb disappeared.
Abbey lunged forward, screaming, as she clutched for Caleb, but he vanished—not as if falling into a hole, but as if every last atom in his body had been annihilated by anti-matter, with no resultant burst of energy. There was simply nothing left.
“Caleb!” Abbey shouted, as she stood alone, while the trees whispered above her. But nobody answered. She began to shiver violently. This defied all definitions of reality that she’d constructed around her in her fourteen years of life. Her fingers brushed the cool gloss of her cell phone. If she called her mother and then waited, it might be too late.
Abbey crouched in front of the stones and reached her hand out, placing her forefinger on the center stone. The effect was instantaneous. She heard a slight whooshing noise and felt like she was on an elevator moving forward, instead of up or down. The forest became hazy. Wherever Simon and Caleb were, they were not in a well. Everything around her extended and blurred, as if she were being propelled at the speed of light. Light, which moves at three hundred thousand kilometers per second. She closed her eyes and tried not to scream.
Within a few seconds, the ground beneath her reconstituted and she decelerated. She had the feeling of being pushed off an escalator, and then she found herself blinking in suddenly dazzling sunlight. She scanned frantically for Caleb and Simon and nearly leapt on top of Caleb when she spotted him a few feet away. But then she just stared. She stood on some sort of causeway or marina dock suspended in the air over a scoured red clay hillside, a waist-high guardrail with metal siding the only thing between her and a significant drop. Smaller causeways branched off the main one on which she stood, and broad, small-winged planes or space vessels hung in the air at various points along the branches, with gangplanks attached at the entrances to each. The berths all had different four-digit numbers, like addresses. The largest branching path, to the right off the main causeway, had a sign that read Commercial Only, while the two smaller branches extending off the left side of the causeway were labeled Recreational and Corporate.
To her left, two carved wooden platforms with benches sat on either side of a short, curving trail of stones. Abbey stared at the stones. What had just happened? Some sort of trick of quantum entanglement transport straight out of Star Trek? A catapult that could propel them through the air at the speed of light? Or had they not really left at all? She searched the hill for signs of the seams, the junction points, where this world faded into hers, an illusion that would fall away if she could just find the edges. But she could see no rift, just vast blue sky and barren hills dotted with sparse scrub. To her right sat a small cubical building covered in mirrored glass set into the hill of red dirt. Below the causeway, the hill gave way to flatter, more vegetated land dotted with small, round dwelling-like structures. Many were half underground, with strange cone-like metal roofs, making them look like clusters of mushrooms. A small river snaked through the structures.
All the explanations Abbey could think of were highly improbable, and of far more immediate concern was the sinking realization that she couldn’t see Simon anywhere. Her stomach had lodged somewhere near her lungs and twanged uncomfortably. Just the twitching of the sympathetic nerve in her stomach wall, she knew. But that didn’t make it any better.
Two vessels cruised past overhead and sank gracefully into spots along the causeway, their physics of movement breathtakingly inexplicable. People could be seen loading and unloading vessels or walking up or down the causeway wheeling luggage. Railway tracks extended out from the building and ran directly down the side of the hill on a steep angle. A train raced up the hill on the tracks, another startling impossibility of physics—unless it was on a cable, like an elevator. Rail tracks emerged from the center of each cluster of structures below, like spokes on a bike.
It was hotter and windier than the warm October afternoon they had just left. Abbey squinted as the light refracted off buildings and surfaces with more force than it ever had in the world they’d left behind. But the sky was still blue, the signs were written in English, and the people moving around on various parts of the causeway appeared to be human.
She grasped Caleb’s arm fiercely. He’d been gazing about just as wildly as she had. “We have to find Simon.”
“He’s over there,” Caleb said, gesturing to the right. “Just sitting on that bench. I saw him when I came through.”
Abbey saw what she’d missed before: the lone hunched figure of her brother on a distant bench on the main artery of the commercial causeway. “What are we going to do?”
“Well, I guess we should go get Simon and then go home,” Caleb said a bit reluctantly. She could already see an unnerving twitch of excitement brewing in his eyes.
“If we can even get home,” Abbey said. “I don’t think we should leave the stones.” Her voice sounded slightly hysterical. Sympathetic nerves and limbic systems weren’t useful in crisis situations, and Caleb, clearly, was in possession of neither.
“The stones are there,” Caleb said. “I’ll step back through and make sure we can go back and forth. Then we can go get Simon.” Caleb’s pupils had shrunk to specks of black in a sea of green ochre. “You have to admit, Ab, this is pretty cool—like going to Narnia or something!”
“Are you a mental case?” Abbey snapped. “This is so not cool. We might not ever get back or see our parents or Farley, or anything, ever again. What if you step on the stones and go somewhere else altogether?” She felt tears pooling in the corners of her eyes, and cursed the testosterone and general boy-ness of her twin that had led Caleb to jump off cliffs, climb trees, take jumps on his bike, explore alleyways, and propel them both into unwanted adventures all her life. This was an adventure of wholly new proportions.
“Okay, okay,” Caleb said, holding up his hand. “I’ll stick my head through to make sure we can go back. You hold my hand tightly. If I get pulled somewhere, you’ll come with me.”
“That could be even worse,” Abbey said. “Then we won’t even be with Simon.”
“Do you have a better suggestion?”
“No. I don’t know.” She felt like she was on the verge of a full-blown panic attack as her mind efficiently, mechanically, and relentlessly calculated odds, risks, and probabilities.
The doors to the building opened. A man and woman stepped out and headed briskly in Abbey and Caleb’s direction. The couple wore navy pantsuits, dark glasses, and sunhats with broad brims. ID cards hung around their necks.
Caleb pulled Abbey over to look over the guardrail with him. The comfort of his hand in hers steadied her a bit.
The woman spoke into a headset. “We’ll handle the coordinate problem after we upgrade the OS for Warkentin.” Abbey felt the slight swish of air at their passing. The pair turned and headed down the corporate branch of the causeway. They were definitely human, they looked completely normal, and they spoke English. Abbey’s mind flicked through the possibilities: a parallel universe, another planet, another world, or another time. All potentially fraught with dangers.
Caleb pulled her in the direction of the stones. “Let’s just give it a try.”
Abbey nodded. Her normally reliable brain, fully entrenched in fight-or-flight mode, was not generating any better suggestions.
Simon still sat on the bench four hundred meters away.
Abbey clenched Caleb’s hand tightly in her own and braced herself on the causeway. Caleb leaned forward and edged one foot onto one of the stones, jutting his head out. Immediately, Abbey felt the pull from his body and then the acceleration. She tried to yank back on Caleb but her feet lost all traction, and then they were back in the forest, their forest, their eyes trying to adjust to the diminished light.
“See, it’s fine,” Caleb said. “We can just go back and forth.”
“We don’t know that,” Abbey said, but she grasped this small shred of relief and held onto it tightly. “Let’s just go get Simon.”
Despite the unsettling but now familiar plummet through nothingness, the stones returned them to the causeway without incident. Simon had risen from the bench and his black toque bobbed slowly down the commercial causeway. They walked quickly after him, but he stopped every few feet to stare at something in his hands, making it easy to gain on him. What could he be doing? Despite her stress level, Abbey had to gape at the vessels that floated silently past, picking up speed as they moved farther away from the causeway, veering and rolling effortlessly. She looked for exhaust, for any sign of combustion, any hint of the type of fuel they used, but there was none.
Caleb’s face shone with a barely suppressed look of rapture. He’d unbuttoned his shirt, revealing his beaded peace necklace.
“Don’t start enjoying this, Cale. We’re getting Simon and then we’re leaving,” Abbey said, tying her sweater around her waist.
Simon whirled and jumped as they approached, and then stopped walking. His lips twisted into a smirky half-smile, but something almost like relief flitted across his pale face. He thrust his iPhone back into his jeans pocket. “Ah, the Squeaksters.” He laughed almost manically at his personal joke regarding their squeaky clean status. He’d become more and more secretive and prickly toward them in the last few months. Their mother had said to leave him alone when Abbey wept hot tears about it. That he was just going through teenage stuff. That he should be left to his programming, his increasingly all-encompassing obsession. But Abbey missed the patient and reserved older brother who used to play board games with her, who would hang back with her in social situations while Caleb always plunged ahead. She supposed that chumming with your geeky younger sister, who’d been afflicted with an exceedingly uncool IQ of over one sixty-five, wasn’t high on the list of favorite activities for an almost sixteen-year-old boy. She was sure Simon was just as smart as she was. He was just better at hiding it.
“All done with your homework?” Simon had intended this to be sarcastic, Abbey was sure. But his voice broke a bit, and ended up sounding more scared than mean. He’d grown impossibly tall over the summer, and if he stopped wearing that toque and frowning all the time, might even be vaguely good-looking. Abbey couldn’t believe none of the girls at Coventry High had noticed. But his averted eyes, eternal awkwardness, and preference for wearing all black likely screamed a warning to most females.
“Simon, where are we?” Caleb asked.
Simon pressed his lips together. “I’m not sure exactly.”
“You better spill, or we’ll tell Mom and Dad. How did you find this place?” Caleb said.
“Like they’d believe you.”
“They might, and besides, look around—we’re your best and only allies right now and you might need us. So spill. How did you know about this place?”
Simon scowled and removed a crinkled piece of paper from his pocket and thrust it at Abbey. She smoothed it out and read:
Date: Thu, 15 October 2012 07:17:03 -0700
From: mantis <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Sinclair
You’ll find Sinclair on the other side of the Coventry Hill path at around 1:00 this Sunday. You can get there in the manner I outlined. Deal with him and return with the proof we discussed. Then I’ll meet my end of the contract. M.
Abbey reread the message. It didn’t make sense. The Coventry Hill path started right outside their house. Their last name was Sinclair. “What does it mean? ‘Deal with him?’ Were you meeting someone? Is someone after you? Or one of us? Where did you get this?” Abbey asked. The message’s deliberate vagueness gave it a sinister tone, like someone was being careful to ensure no details were in writing.
Simon shook his head. “I wasn’t meeting anyone, and I didn’t figure you were either, and Dad’s away until tonight. I watched the path all morning. Just before one, I saw this kid head up the path. So I followed him for a few minutes. Then he stopped by that creepy rosebush and just vanished. I thought maybe there was a cave, or he was in the bushes. So I sat down and waited for a bit. But he never came back.”
The glare that had forced Abbey to squint slackened. She looked up past the delta wing of a ship that cast a shadow over their heads. Black storm clouds had blown over the sun.
“So, I went looking where I last saw him, and my foot must have scuffed one of those weird stones because I was pulled through the air and I ended up here. Then I must have kind of freaked out or something and stepped backward onto the stones again and I ended up back on Coventry Hill. So I went home, packed some food, clothes and other supplies and came back.”
“Why did you pack a bag? You’re not actually planning to stay here, are you?” Caleb asked.
“I’m not sure about you,” Simon said slowly, shifting his eyes to look pointedly from their feet to their heads, “but when I go to unknown new worlds, I like to be prepared, whether I’m staying or not.”
Abbey’s foot tapped the causeway in a near stomp. “Why did you even come back? You have no idea what this place is. It might be our imaginations or a trick of physics. There could be danger around every corner. You can’t possibly be planning on staying.”
With the sun behind the cloud, Simon’s dusky eyes were a mosaic of indigo and cobalt. “Are you suggesting that if you found a portal to a different world, you wouldn’t go back and check it out?”
“Not by myself,” Abbey said.
“All right, Boy Scout, how did you get the email anyway?” Caleb asked.
“I hacked into the school district server. Don’t ask why, and do not tell Mom and Dad.”
“You have to show this email to Mom and Dad,” Abbey started to say, when the door of the blimp-like ship they were standing next to opened with a creak. A man with a dark pointed beard, in a khaki jumpsuit, black boots, and a sunhat, walked down the gangplank. His outfit was eerily similar to those of the people they’d seen a few minutes before. He smiled, revealing straight, brilliant white teeth with prominent canines. Abbey sucked in her breath.
“Are you with Sinclair?” he asked. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
Mark lay on his bed in the fetal position as the dizzy numbness of the Ativan washed over him. Ocean had tucked herself into the curve of his chest and her fluffy fur tickled his nose. The fur in his nose bothered him, but he was trying to tolerate it because she was the only friend he had and her purring was calming (according to his mother). His mother didn’t often resort to Ativan because she knew he hated it, but he supposed he deserved it. She’d locked him in the house earlier that morning after he’d ripped up all the books in the living room looking for another letter or photograph. Told him he couldn’t go out when he was in one of his moods. But Abbey wore the pink and orange sweater for the first time today. The sweater he’d been watching for. The date, today’s date, had already been circled on the calendar for years, 10-18-12, disguised—cleverly, he thought—as part of a sketch of the Aleutian Island chain. He always drew on his calendars, so his mother hadn’t noticed a thing. It wasn’t the date of course, but it was close, and a luckier combination of numbers because both eighteen and twelve were divisible by three. Kind of like setting his clock radio for an hour or two early. (He’d also circled 09-27-12, which was his favorite combination of numbers of all time, to give himself a three-week advance warning. This had proven to be useless, as he’d come up with no viable strategy and so he’d basically just spent the last three weeks alternately moping and agitating in despair.)
But the appearance of Abbey’s sweater had made it real, and Mark got panicky. He’d tried to get Abbey and Caleb’s attention when he saw the sweater today by waving and hitting the window. They had ignored him (as usual) and headed up the Coventry Hill path, which suggested maybe today was the first day. He hadn’t known that before. After they left, he yelled some more and ripped up the living room, which led to the Ativan shot and his current situation.
In retrospect, he hadn’t had a clear game plan. He could have held a note up to the window. But what would he have written? Don’t go? They wouldn’t know what he was talking about, and it was possible that he needed them to go. Don’t let my mother see you? There again he wasn’t entirely sure. But he hadn’t known exactly how it would all start, either, so it had been hard for him to prepare. (Also, the Ativan made everything a bit fuzzy.)
He still had four days to figure out what to do.
Before something really bad happened.