Grape’s brother, Brad, was forced through a rift into a parallel universe where magic is the norm. Grape is still connected to him through dreams. Here, she encounters Brad in dream-form for the first time.
“Uuuuugh,” Brad moaned as he opened his eyes. The darkness had been a better, more forgiving place. Waking up only returned him to his new reality. The cave came into focus: the burnt ashes of last night’s fire, his own dirty backpack crammed with the objects of a former life, the dead man sitting patiently by the mouth of the cave—his mud-caked robe creased stiffly around his body, and the couple huddled in the shadows. Their whimpers grew louder as Brad sat up.
“Tomorrow, you will wake up earlier,” the dead man said in his dry voice.
Brad ignored the rotting corpse and turned his attention to the cowering couple. “It’s okay.” He raised his empty hands palm up to show that he bore them no ill will.
The woman buried her head in the man’s chest. They sat shaking into one another, two skeletons covered in loose skin and scars.
“Don’t bother with them. They probably don’t understand a word you’re saying.”
Brad reached for his glasses, forgetting that he no longer wore them. That was the first thing the dead man had done, poured a potion in his eyes and bound them for two days. Poor eyesight was a weakness they could ill afford, the dead man had told him. Blinded, they’d moved him to this cave, well away from the rift that could lead him home. Orzael, the cat man, had hunted as the dead man cared for Brad. But the dead man wasn’t the only one who stayed with him. Brad could feel someone in his mind, exploring his thoughts. Brad called him the Other. Occasionally, Brad had been able to pick up on a few thoughts of the Other as well.
“They’re frightened. And hurt,” Brad said, moving slowly toward the couple. “Those are new cuts on her arm.”
“Yes. Search your mind. You’ll remember them.”
Brad didn’t want to search his mind, didn’t want to remember what he’d done under the Other’s influence, but the images came back unbidden. His hands flicking by his sides, chanting in a language he didn’t understand, the slashes appearing across the woman’s arms. Red, bloody gashes cutting into the brown skin.
“You know the incantation now,” the dead man said. It was not a question.
Of course Brad knew. He knew every one they’d taught him. Even when it was the Other who took over his body and performed the spells, Brad knew them. He was always there with the Other, and not there. Alive, but not in control, and completely unable to forget what the Other had made him do.
“Here,” Brad said, handing a canteen of water to the man huddled in the darkness. He could just make out wild eyes staring at him. The man wore torn rags, revealing skin-sheathed bones beneath. How long had it been since these two had had enough to eat? Years, it looked like. The man’s skin was the color of milk chocolate, the parts that weren’t caked in dirt. Brad watched as the man scooted farther back, trying to press his body into the rock wall behind him. His grip on the woman grew tighter and she whimpered under his embrace.
“I gave them water this morning and some boiled roots to eat.”
Brad left the canteen at their feet and joined the dead man at the mouth of the cave. He stood, looking out at the hilly terrain. Rocks and dirt and clumps of yellowing grass were all he’d seen of this new land since his vision had returned. “Is Orzael out hunting?”
The dead man nodded, his head bowing to his chest and back, loose on his neck. “Your lessons will begin after breakfast.”
“No,” Brad said. “No more. Please.” His first few days’ lessons had been simple, learning to harness the magic within him. He’d been taught to turn plants different colors, to manipulate the light and shade to make a boulder appear to be a doll’s house. Brad had been excited in those days, if lonely. The Other had touched his memories, learned his mind, but hadn’t interfered. Then, one night, Orzael had returned with the couple. They’d already been through something terrible. The scars on their bodies and the way they shook and slumped as they moved told him that. And their eyes, awake and distant, as if they’d had lots of practice pretending they weren’t there at all. Brad had supposed that Orzael had found them foraging in some nearby woods, that he had brought them here for the dead man to help them. He had been very, very wrong.
“A gift from your grandfather,” the dead man had told him. It was the first time Brad had heard the Other named, though he’d already gleaned the information from the Other’s mind. My grandfather, Ravanuri.
“Who are they?”
“Who they are is none of your concern. They are for you to practice upon.”
“Practice healing?” Brad had asked, taking in their sunken cheeks and wild eyes. A blistering burn covered the woman’s cheek. Could he rid her of the pain or maybe even make the burn disappear completely? His mind reeled with possibilities, and he felt the Other’s presence. He reached out with his mind and inspected the Other’s thoughts. He found a spell that could at least rid a cut of infection; perhaps he could use it on her to see if the burn would heal more quickly.
“No,” the dead man had said, his milky-white eyes boring into Brad. “You are not a Healer, boy. Your task is far more important.”
“Than what? She needs our help.”
The dead man had taught him a spell, urged Brad to repeat it, but Brad had refused unless the dead man told him what the spell would do. The dead man struck him, even had Orzael slap him with his meaty paw, but Brad had resisted. Then the Other had taken over. White heat engulfed Brad’s body like flames. He felt his own mind receding, becoming a spectator as his arms flailed, his voice calling out the words the dead man had taught him. There was pain. And helplessness. And fear. Brad fought, but the Other was too strong. He watched, paralyzed, as the Other, his grandfather, a man named Ravanuri, used Brad’s body to perform the spell. The couple, crying in the middle of the cave, flew backward as if thrown by a strong wind. Brad could still hear the sick thud of their bodies hitting the hard rock wall.
He shook the memory from his mind. What was done was done. Now, he had to figure out a way to keep the couple from getting hurt anymore.
“I won’t do it,” he said.
The dead man turned his attention away from the landscape and focused solely on Brad. His milky-white eyes had taken some time to get used to, but Brad wasn’t sure if he would ever grow accustomed to the blue veins that snaked the man’s pale skin or the thin, bone-white lips that stretched in a straight line across his face. But worst of all were the dead man’s rotting teeth, small and brown. A cloud of sour odor surrounded him and grew worse when he spoke. “You don’t have a choice.”
About the Book
Title: Wrong Side of the Rift
Author: Libby Heil
Genre: YA Fantasy
Grape can’t unlearn what living in Sortilege Falls has taught her. Magic is real. Vampires live among us. And there’s a portal in her back yard that leads to another world.
A few weeks ago, Grape lived a quiet life with her family in Watts Landing. Now, she’s stuck in Sortilege Falls, searching for a way to rescue her brother from the other side of the rift. She’s connected to Brad through dreams and what she sees terrifies her. Brad is being tortured into performing magic and, even worse, he’s being forced to torture others.
Grape hounds the magic folk in town, seeking a way through the rift. Her mother’s memory’s been stolen. Her new vampire friend refuses to help. Grape must do it all alone. What she uncovers is a whole host of secrets about the town and her own family. And she’s not the only one hunting for answers.
Time is running out for Brad, but it might be running out for Grape as well.
Buy your copy of Wrong Side of the Rift from Amazon.
I was born during a blizzard. I’m told it was pretty cool but I have no memory of that time. I grew up in two tiny towns in Virginia and spent most of my twenties moving around the US. I’ve lived in Virginia, Florida, Missouri, and Washington. I’ve settled down, for now, in Raleigh, North Carolina.
I’m a writer and improviser. I studied acting in college but spent more time rewriting lines than memorizing them. My first play, Fourth Wall, was produced my junior year. Since then, I’ve written several full length plays, one acts and screenplays. I started writing fiction in my late twenties. Now, I focus mainly on novels but still dabble in theater.
Fun facts about me: There are none. I’m sorry to disappoint you so soon. But, I do love to read, write, and run. My hubby is my favorite person on earth. Dogs are my second favorite. All dogs. I love orange juice, especially when it’s mixed with club soda. Carbonation is better than alcohol. Jaws is my favorite movie. Everything I’ve said so far is true.
Puschcart Prize Nomination for “Grow Your Own Dad” – Published by Mixer Publishing
Semi-finalist Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference – “STUFF”
Honorable Mention The Ohio State Newark New Play Contest – “The Last Day”