Read A Quill Ladder Online

Authors: Jennifer Ellis

A Quill Ladder (5 page)

Do you mind letting me in then?

Ian said.

That would be worse.

Please. I need your help.

Before Abbey could say anything, Simon pulled the screen out of his window, cranked it open another foot, and offered his hand to Ian, who climbed carefully onto Simon

s desk and then onto the floor.

Not a fan of lights, then?

Not really,

Simon said.

Look, I

ll get right to the point. I need you to help me find Jake

tonight. Frank and Francis have staked out the playgrounds of both high schools with no luck, and this new sign-in procedure at the school offices has us stymied. Apparently there are new procedures in 2012 that mean strangers can

t get the names of students, or hang around schools. Students won

t talk to us. I

m not sure what the hell happened in the last fifty years, but espionage has become far more challenging.

Ever heard of the Internet?

Simon asked, then turned to Abbey.

Who are Frank and Francis, and why does this guy seem to think he knows you well enough to knock on our bedroom windows?

We met,

Abbey said.

Today. In the juniper bushes. This is Ian. Frank and Francis are, you know, the big guys

in the Camry.

If Mom and Dad find out

Ian flapped his hands in the air to shush them.

Look folks, I appreciate that there are family politics at play here, but we urgently need some help. We need someone who can use the docks, or some very unpleasant things may be about to happen. As for this internal net thing

we didn

t even have computers back in my day, so we

re a little lost with regard to how to use it or where to find it.


s voice crackled with anger.

Go to the library, buy some Internet time, go to a computer, click on the screen, open a browser called Safari, type Jake and Coventry without the


into the bubble in the top right, click on the links, and figure it out.

Ian was silent for a few seconds.

If you could just give us his address, it would really be much simpler for us.

We helped a lot of people out three weeks ago, and as far as I can tell, it just advanced
personal agendas while putting
in danger.

Yes, well, now we

re here to help you stop them.

It seems to me that you folks have to work this all out yourselves. Without our help.

Then we will all be lost.

Simon gave a snorty laugh.

Of course! Bring out the dramatics to convince the kids who

must save the world

to go on the quest. That

s how all epic fantasy novels and video games begin. The inciting incident that makes our unlikely hero take up the sword.

I just want an address, really,

said Ian quietly.

Look, the pair of you, and your brother, and your friend Mark, are involved in this whether you like it or not

no matter how much your parents are trying to block you out of it. You live right next to the stones and your mother uses them every morning, and what

s going to happen could affect everyone in the world.

She what?

Simon said, scrunching up his face. Abbey was glad Simon hadn

t known either. Then he frowned.

Unlike you, possibly, since you seem to have spent much of your life cooped up in Nowhere, we

ve seen the future. And yes, there are some challenges, but it

s not like the world was completely obliterated. We could make it worse.

Ian winced at the mention of Nowhere.


re right.

t know how the future looks. That

s why we need your help. The stones tend to jump you approximately twenty to thirty years into your biological future. They

ll go less if you

re near the end of your potential lifespan and can

t possibly live that long. Since we spent so much time in time purgatory, twenty to thirty years in the biological future, for most of us, is the past.

Ian paused to let this sink in. Abbey

s legs went a bit rubbery.

The stones
allow travel to the past.

Ian continued more deliberately.

But the thing about going to the past is that creating paradox is about as easy as tripping over your own shoelace, and none of us is particularly keen to go back to Nowhere. Yet there are some of those in the Guild who are probably willing to sacrifice their own lives for the greater vision, if you know what I mean, and could be convinced that they

ll be rescued from Nowhere again if they help out. And that could really screw things up

for everyone. I don

t think any of them have tried it yet. But they will, eventually.

I don

t know if we know quite what you mean. Is there a greater vision?

Abbey said.

greater vision?


s best not to say

Oh, is that kind of like

he who shall not be named


Simon sneered, cutting Ian off.

Abbey saw the outline of Ian cock his head to the side. Of course he would have no idea what Simon was talking about.

Ian continued,

Before you interrupted me, I was going to say, it

s best not to say
right now
. If you want me to explain the intricacies of the Witching Guild and politics, it

s going to take some time, and I really need Jake

s address tonight. I

m prepared to offer lessons in witchcraft in exchange.

I don

t believe any of you can do magic,

Simon said.

You just crawled in a window and are begging us for an address. If you could do magic, wouldn

t you just wave your wand and make the address appear?

We don

t call it magic,

Ian said in a strained voice.

At least those of us who know what we

re about don

t, and we don

t have wands.

Fine, then. Whatever you call it. Can any of you actually do anything the rest of us can


Ian flicked the switch on Simon

s desk, picked up a pencil, and withdrew a piece of paper from Simon

s recycling bin. When he drew a pentagram, Abbey almost gasped. Ian pushed the paper in Simon

s direction and handed him the pencil.

The problem

the one you

re currently frustrated about

think about it and draw the numbers that come to your mind in as many of the vertices as you wish.

Simon narrowed his eyes, but nonetheless started scrawling random numbers into the corners of the pentagram. When he was finished, he placed the pencil back on the desk with a vaguely defiant look.

Ian picked up the pencil and started adding and multiplying the numbers in an order that cut three diagonals through the pentagram, but he was doing the sums and products so quickly that Abbey couldn

t quite follow. Then he started summing and multiplying the sums and products, until only one number

a nine


Ian circled it and said,

The thing you

re working on. Three isn

t going to be enough. You need nine.

Simon blanched.

But three is the industry standard.

It may be, but when you

re trying to forge new ground, you may have to go in a different direction.

I thought you didn

t know anything about the

internal net.
Simon twisted the final two words.

I don

t. But I do know the meaning of numbers.

Then why can

t you do that to find Jake

s address?

I could, if you

d be willing to write down some numbers for me again.

So the numbers I write down, and the order I write them in, enable you to read my mind.

Not exactly. They help me to read reality, and your mind has been a conscious or subconscious observer of that reality, which is why the numbers have to come from you. Your mind was already telling you nine, but you weren

t listening to it, which is why you were stuck.

I don

t know Jake

s address.

Then simple verbal directions as to where we could find him would suffice.

Simon and Ian stared at each other.

They were interrupted by a quick tap and the inward swing of Simon

s bedroom door. Abbey stifled a scream, but only Caleb stood on the threshold, with a quizzical look on his freckled face. He took in Ian, the open window, and the pentagram diagram on Simon

s desk in quick order, and his face clouded.

Excluding me again, are you?

Simon hastily moved to shut the door behind Caleb.

No, we

re not. Abbey had just come to ask me a question, when this guy
Simon gestured at Ian
decided to make an appearance.

never met him before. He wants Jake

s address.

Abbey flinched at Simon

s slight emphasis on the word

The wary look of hurt on Caleb

s face didn

t falter. Ian strode across the room with his hand outstretched.

Ian, from across the way, sixty-eight years young, on the good side, just to be clear. We could really use your help, but your brother and sister here seem to have some trust issues.

Caleb took Ian

s hand and nodded, darting a vague glare in Abbey

s direction.

Like I was saying to Abbey and Simon, we

re facing some big problems, and we need Jake

s help. Nobody seems inclined to provide the three of you with the instructions you

re going to need to navigate this world, and I

m happy to do that

in exchange for your assistance.

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