Read A Quill Ladder Online

Authors: Jennifer Ellis

A Quill Ladder (4 page)

Abbey had considered bringing up her mother

s promise to tell her everything, but she couldn

t work up the nerve, so now she sat with her chemistry book open to amines and the browser on her laptop displaying entries regarding witchcraft. She shifted her gaze from one to the other. She should do what her mother had ordered and forget all about the stones and witchcraft.

Amines are derivatives of ammonia in which one or more hydrogen atoms are replaced with alkyl or aromatic groups. Amines are often used in compounds in medications, such as neo-synephrine, histamine, and methamphetamine.

The lights at the Forrester house cast distended and fuzzy rectangular patches of yellow on the grass below. A figure sat on the darkened porch, and Abbey could make out the faint glow of a cigarette.

She started to sketch out the chemical structure of the three amine compounds. When she got to neo-synephrine, she stopped. Something in her memory twigged. A news article about a girl not much older than her having a stroke after taking diet drugs containing neo-synephrine. Neo-synephrine, which smelled like bitter oranges.

Abbey turned slowly and carefully to the chemistry set that sat on her other desk at the far side of her room. The test tubes with the amber liquid in them that they had taken from Mrs. Forrester

s still sat in her test tube rack. She had placed the tops on the tubes in a hurry, planning to come back to them later, but then the hospital had called about Mrs. Forrester

s stroke, and Abbey had failed to check to see if the caps were screwed tight. The liquid in the tubes had diminished in volume. Some of the alcohol would have evaporated.

She stood and approached the test tubes gingerly. She unscrewed one of the caps and wafted the air above it toward her nose carefully. Was that the faint smell of orange? Had someone actually caused Mrs. Forrester

s stroke deliberately? And if so, who? Abbey suppressed a shudder at the number of possible suspects.

But it didn

t quite smell like orange. At least, not bitter orange. She tightened the cap again quickly, then changed her mind and loosened it off. Perhaps the smell would become more concentrated if she let more of the alcohol evaporate. Should they contact the police? Would she, Caleb, and Simon be in trouble for taking something from a potential crime scene and harboring it for weeks? And really, how would they explain any of it? She placed the test tube holder on the top shelf of her closet and closed the door.

She retrieved her iPhone and opened her text message app. The list sat there

black words stark against the blue bubble they occupied.


Russell Andrews/ALICE

Save Jake

March 9, 2013

Beware false prophets/Find an ancient you can trust

Catalysts may not create paradox

Mark and Sam may be able to help

Find Mom

s files

Quentin Steinam investments

Lex Parsimoniae

Nothing is set in stone

But please, do not change too much

Sam is the right choice

Do NOT listen to Mom

Do NOT let Mom use the stones on May 6, 2013

July 12, 2013

Date of the bomb that was not a bomb?


She looked back out across the street. The orange hue from the cigarette had disappeared. Was Ian the ancient she could trust, or was he the false prophet? How was Russell Andrews involved in this? Did he know about the stones? Was he a witch, too? Whatever the heck that meant. Abbey was beginning to think the witch stuff was a big red herring

a bunch of people cloaking their nefarious time travel activities under the more benign banner of witchcraft, as if they
to time travel to follow the customs of

what had Dr. Ford called it

the Guild? Not, Abbey reflected, that witchcraft on earth had a reputation for being particularly benign.

She couldn

t do this alone. She collected her iPhone and slipped out into the hall. Flo Rida


Good Feeling

blared from Caleb

s room and covered the sound of her knock. She could hear the TV on down in the crypt. Her parents had taken to watching it in the evenings

another sign that things were totally off the rails. Simon drew open his door a crack, blinking slightly in the brightness of the hall.

I need your help with something,

Abbey murmured.

He nodded and pulled the door open wider to allow her to enter his room, lit only by the glow of the two giant computer monitors that occupied his desk.

She was going to do this, then.


2. The Good Side, Of Course



Abbey settled herself on the edge of Simon

s bed. His navy blue walls made the white of his computer screen seem blinding, and yet Abbey could see Simon

s eyes shift furtively back to the lines of code that occupied the monitors.

Working on something?

she said. Her nerves added a glibness to her tone, and Simon plunked into his computer chair and flicked the buttons on the bottom of the monitors, plunging them into darkness. Only the lights from Mrs. Forrester

s shone a dull glimmer onto Simon

s duvet.


m always working on something,

he replied evenly.

I know, Si. I

m sorry. I didn

t mean anything by that. What are you working on?

She heard the air whoosh out of his nose in a snort.


m trying to replicate the code I saw on the computer in 2036. Stupid, I know, since the functions, like communications, and navigation, and the ship for which I would be writing the code don

t even exist. But I

m trying to build the structure. I don

t know how well it

s going, though. I thought I had it figured out when I was there, but now I

m not so sure.


m sure you

ll figure it out.

Abbey paused.

Well, I guess we know you will.

Simon snorted again, and she could make out his silhouette now.


s the interesting question. Do we? Was that my future, or one possible future, or just some crazy illusion? Am I writing the code now because I saw the code in the future and now think I can? Would I ever have come up with it on my own if I hadn

t seen it in the future? Is it now just a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Abbey almost laughed.

So you

re devaluing your own creation because it was your future self that created it and gave you the idea?

But he had a point. This knowing the future, or thinking you knew the future... this thinking you had to live up to the successes of your future self, when it was in fact

d achieved those successes

it was a strange and entirely unnerving thing. With an oddly competitive aspect to it.

To her relief, Abbey heard a low chuckle emerge from the shadows.

So, what brings you to my lair, as you and Caleb so fondly call it? I

m assuming you

re not proposing a trip to the stones, since we

re in lockdown. I

m not even sure if we

re allowed to be fraternizing.

There was a drollness to Simon

s manner, but he was right. If their parents caught her in here, there would be questions.

When I went with Caleb to your future on the docks, after the men came out of the forest with the crossbows and spears and Caleb was hurt
She paused, because she knew that Simon had been hurt too. Just less hurt. Still, they had abandoned him with Mantis. But Simon didn

t move or say anything, so she continued.

Future Caleb said he had changed his mind about changing the future. He said I had to try to

fix everything, and he told me where to find my iPhone in
future, and there was a list on my iPhone. A list of clues.

I see.

Simon remained motionless at this point. The strains of Maroon 5


One More Night

thudded through the wall from Caleb

s room.

And I was wondering if you wanted to take a look at the list and tell me what you think.

Silence except for Adam Levine. Simon raked his hand through his hair.

I don

t know, Ab. We were told not to get involved. Caleb

s the one that

s good at this kind of stuff. Not me.

Fix everything.

That seems like a pretty tall task.

So you

re okay if the three of us end up living in three different universes or timelines.

I didn

t say that. But what if by trying to fix it, we make it worse?

I don

t know.

Then maybe we should do nothing.

What about Mom? Mom

s dying, Simon.

Abbey tried to keep a firm rein on her tears.


s voice dropped an octave into the fierceness of adulthood.

We don

t know that.

How could she have used the docks if she wasn


Ab, we really don

t know anything about those stupid docks. Mantis and Ford could have been feeding us a whole line of crap about the camels. Who knows if they even know? Maybe only special people can use the docks. People with brown hair, or AB positive blood, or who were born under the full moon. Who knows? I just know you can

t believe a word out of either of their mouths.


t you even interested in looking at the list of clues?

Abbey tried to keep the snappishness out of her voice.


ll look at them, I just don

t think we should necessarily act on them,

Simon shot back.

Abbey was about to press the code on her iPhone when there was a quiet rap on Simon

s window. She and Simon both leapt to their feet, and stared first at each other and then the window.

Did you hear


Simon said.

The knock came again. Abbey and Simon moved toward the window. Abbey experienced the same jittery acceleration of her heart that she

d been growing used to since they

d first found the stones.

A dark figure pressed against the wall of their house, behind the rosebush that occupied the space in between Abbey

s and Simon

s windows. The streetlight threw enough light for Abbey to catch the outlines of a tan beret. Ian reached out his hand and knocked again, this time on Abbey

s window. Abbey reached out and cranked open Simon

s window.


she ordered.

You could get us into serious trouble.

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