"You have got to eat something, Chester," Adam began twisting the doorknob, but it refused.
"No," his voice echoed from inside the room
"Look, you're up here but you don't have to lock the door. Mother never said to lock the door."
Adam placed the plate of food on the floor. "Come on, brother, open the door."
"Go back downstairs."
Adam sighed and smoothed his long pale hair behind his ears. "All right, I'm going." He stomped his feet on the floor, but did not move. The door opened and a grey eye peeked out. Adam put his foot between the door and the face.
"This is cheating!"
"Let me in!" Adam pulled the door wide open and ran into the room. It was an unfinished storage room, with trunks full of Western dresses and a little bed in the corner. Next to the bed was a pile of leather-bound books. Adam went to this bed and sat down.
"Tell me what you've been reading."
Chester picked up the plate of food and shut the door to the room again. He sat on the floor some distance from his brother. They were both very beautiful boys, ten years old, with long pale hair and bodies still awkward and too tall in places. To the naked eye, they were perfectly identical, but it became clear to any observant, that Chester's eyes were less bright and his skin more pale and his hair just a bit darker. He was considerably thinner than his brother as well, his ribcage easily visible through his white shirt.
Chester stared at the plate in silence. He looked up at Adam after a moment. "I hate Mother."
Adam looked back at him. "Why?"
"I want to kill her."
"But she's our Mother. You cannot kill her," Adam said logically. "It wouldn't be... Moral."
Chester continued staring at the plate.
"Father said you could come down if you wanted," Adam said after a while.
"I hate these parties. I hate the Westerners. The all stare at us, brother. Like we're from the Forest or something."
"Mother says it's because we are pretty."
"Like girls. I know." He set the plate aside and put his head on his knees. "I want to leave."
Adam tilted his head. "What?"
"The whole of West Clocktown. I hate it. I want to see what's on the other side of the Wall. I read these stories and I know that... Somewhere..."
" I would not be Chester anymore, I guess."
"That's just stupid."
Chester looked up suddenly. "Will you stay with me?"
Adam laughed softly. "What for, you idiot?"
"Are you frightened?" He asked, still amused.
Chester did not answer.
Adam stared at him for a moment and his face grew soft. "Oh." He got up from the bed and moved to his brother's side.
"Hey, you will not be up here forever."
"I'm going to die up here."
"Don't say things like that."
"I wish I would."
Adam leaned down and felt for Chester's hand. "Please, don't say things like that."
Chester turned his head, letting his hair fall across his face. "I cannot... She hates me. What I do, it isn't my fault..." he choked.
Adam looked at him helplessly. "I wish it was me. I think it's amazing to be able to change things like you do."
"That is because you are an idiot."
"Probably so." Adam sat down and leaned against the wall next to his brother.
"The book I'm reading is about a girl named Isadore whose father wants to marry her and she refuses and then slits her own throat."
"That sounds awful."
"It is. I've already read it."
"Then why are you reading it again?"
Chester shrugged. "It's very violent."
"I'll tell Father you want more books, then."
Chester picked up the plate of food and stared at it distastefully. "What is this?"
"It's supposed to be good for you."
Chester frowned at it. "I think I'll starve tonight."
"I'll get you cake if you eat it."
Chester smiled softly. "Only chocolate."
Adam had left to find said cake when he found his father, William, hurrying up the stairs. He looked up at him. "Oh, Adam. Your mother wants you."
"Doesn't she always?" The boy sighed.
"I'm always nice."
Adam pushed past the man and descended into the main hall of the house. His father, an appealing, if slightly plain man with nondescript brown hair and even more nondescript brown eyes, stood on the stairs looking after his son.
As Adam skittered off the bottom step he called up, "Chester wants a new book. He has read all of the ones up there."
William's expression, as always, was perfectly unreadable. William shrugged and continued his ascent upstairs, then down the hall, and around the corner, to the room where Chester had been sent. He tapped on it.
"Father?" the boy's voice echoed from inside.
"Yes," the man answered. "How did you guess?"
"Your footsteps are heavier than Adam's. What do you want?"
"You can come down if you want."
"Adam already told me. I've decided against it."
His father sighed. "Will you let me in?"
"No. But you are welcome to stand out there for a while."
"Now, Chester. Don't be bad. It's what sends you up here in the first place."
William heard the click of the lock and the scampering of feet across the floor. He opened the door and found Chester sitting on the bed, not looking at anything in particular.
"Hey, there. Don't look so distraught. I'm letting you out."
"Like I'm a bird in a cage," Chester said bitterly.
"Adam isn't coming back up. Your mother wants him to stay downstairs. You know how she gets about him."
Chester nodded. "She'll make him follow her around for the rest of the party, showing him off like a prized parakeet."
"Oh, you're so antagonistic towards your mother."
Chester raised his eyebrows. "Not in the least. I just adore her so much. I can only express it like this."
William sighed. "You know she loves you too. She just doesn't want an incident."
"Aren't you afraid of an incident?"
"I say accidents happen. If you stay out of her sight, you'll be fine."
"Couldn't it be said that I am, in fact, doing that up here?"
William sat on the bed next to Chester. "You're such a smart little brat. You read too much."
Chester looked towards the corner of the room.
William smiled softly. "Don't tell your mother, all right?" From the thin air he pulled a book out, as if from an invisible shelf. He handed it to Chester.
"Adam said you'd read everything up here."
Chester ran his slender fingers over the leather-bound cover, but did not speak.
"I read that one a while back," William said. "It's an improvement on that Isadore one. I'm not sure why I even remembered that one to give it to you."
"Does mother know you can do that?" the boy asked after a while.
William shrugged his shoulders and tapped the floor with his foot. "Yes."
"Then why aren't you locked up?"
William did not answer.
Chester tossed the book into the air and twisted his fingers into strange, painful contortions. William winced.
Half-way on its ascent, the book burst into a flurry of feathers. The pile floated down to Chester's lap.
"Can you change it back?" William asked, curiously.
Chester stared hard at the pile of feathers, and closed his hands suddenly. There was a book there once more.
William ruffled Chester's long pale hair. "You should let me cut off your hair."
"No. Mother won't let Adam cut his. I promised him I wouldn't cut mine."
"Suit yourself. Be careful about changing things. Even up here." William stood. "Enjoy the book." He moved towards the doorway, then turned and looked back at the boy. "I'm sorry."
Chester stared, unblinking.
Then William closed the door.
Downstairs, in the main room, there was a bustle of activity. Adam was nearly knocked down by broad skirts as smiling women swooshed about the room with excitable men. In the midst of it, shining like a diamond in an iron sea, was Tabitha née Whiteridge. She had bright grey eyes, hair the color and shine of molten gold, her figure, draped in a dress of exquisite form with one too many buckles across the stomach, was willowy and slightly too-tall. She was, for all intents and purposes, Adam and Chester's mother.
"Ah, my dear, there you are!" her voice rang out when Adam was still a good two yards away.
Adam hurried over to her. "Yes?" he said quietly when he was within suitable conversation range.
"Would you like some cake?" She still asked in ringing tones.
She smiled broadly. Her teeth sparkled. "Where is Chester? Would he like some cake?"
Adam began slowly backing towards the kitchen where it was quieter and less could be heard.
"No. Chester would not like anything," Adam replied calmly.
"Did you ask him?"
"Yes. I did."
"Why isn't he down here, darling?"
"You told him to go upstairs."
"I did no such thing. You make me sound perfectly horrid."
"You do that for yourself."
"Adam, darling, you wound me."
She began to run her fingers through his hair.
He pulled away. "You've forgotten that you locked Chester up again?"
"Why would I do something like that, my love?"
"I have no idea."
Her face frowned deeply. "Well, tell him he can come down, of course."
"But.. He must come down. It's chocolate."
"He doesn't want to."
Her frown deepened across her red lips. "Oh dear, I'll have to go and have a word with him."
She turned to go out of the room, but was blocked by William. "Tabitha, my jewel."
"There you are William!" She looked around. "I had something to do."
"Yes. You promised me a dance."
"No.. Something involving Chester."
"Nonsense, Chester is not feeling well. You just sent him to bed."
"Oh. I seem to have forgotten that."
William put his hand around her waist, and looked over his shoulder at Adam.
Adam shook his head. Then he turned and cut a very large slice of cake.
The Monday after the party, the house was silent. William had gone to his job as a doctor and in their room, Chester was sitting on the overstuffed chair, flipping through a book and Adam was busily scribbling music notes on a piece of paper.
Halfway down a staccato note, Tabitha burst in the room, full of excitement. "My darlings!"
"Hello Mother," Adam said politely.
Chester continued reading.
"Chester, my heart, would you come with me for a moment?"
Chester turned the page.
He looked up. "What could you possibly want?"
"I have a present for you." Her eyes were shining excitedly. "Would you like to see?"
Chester closed the book slowly and stood. "I suppose you won't leave me alone."
He followed her into the hall. There was a large object wrapped in brown paper standing there.
"What is it? A lamp?"
"Oh, do open it, my dear. Please."
Chester tore the paper off without much enthusiasm. There stood before him a wire cage on a stand.
"We have no birds," he said calmly, not looking at her.
"Oh, you are so silly. Now, I want you to enjoy this."
Chester shrugged his shoulders and began the labor of pulling the cage into the room. Adam looked up at him when he situated it in the corner. "A birdcage?"
Tabitha entered the room again. "Isn't it fabulous?"
Neither child answered. Chester sat down and picked up his book once more.
"Oh, I do dote on you Chester," Tabitha, patting his head.
"What is it for?" he asked slowly.
"To celebrate! I've decided we shall no longer send you two to school."
The twins looked at one another.
Adam spoke first, "Why have you decided this?"
"Oh, you are just much too smart for that place. What do those horrid teachers even know that my lovelies cannot teach themselves?"
Chester smiled behind his book. "Well, that's a relief."
"Yes, now everyday you can spend with me, my darlings."
"I cannot contain my excitement," Chester muttered.
Adam, however, looked genuinely horrified. "Mother. What is your name?"
Adam ushered the woman back into the hallway. "You need to lie down. I'm going to get father, and you are going to lie down."
She shook her head, her eyes distant. "Of course, darling. You're right."
As he led her down the stairs, Tabitha commented, "Such a good boy. It's a shame I could never have any other children. It's so lonely to be an only child." She stopped and looked at him. "Oh my charm, you aren't lonely are you?"
Adam rolled his eyes. "I have a brother."
"Oh. Oh yes! Chester!" Tabitha looked delighted.
Tabitha nodded. "Indeed. Perhaps I'll just lie down for a while. You tell Chester not to bother me, shall you?"
"That's my love."
Adam led her to the library, where she laid down on the couch.
He wandered out into the hall, and knelt down to put his boots on. He was lacing up the left one when he looked up and found Chester leaning over the stair rail a few steps from the bottom. Adam frowned and tied the right boot. "It's not you, it's her." He stood and looked at his twin. His lips moved lamely, but he could find nothing to say. He shrugged, and walked out of the door.
Chester slid down the stairs and wandered across the main room. It was a large room, mostly empty, save for a sleek black grand piano. He moved towards the library door, and peeked inside. He saw Tabitha flip her silky hair over her shoulders and relax luxuriously on the couch. It was an enormous room, and truth be told, most of the books on the shelves were false. Chester dreamed of a room filled with thousands of fluttering pages, each full of delicate words, telling stories. False books seemed almost sinful.
He pushed the door open and entered the room.
Tabitha, who had closed her eyes, did not look up. "You do not move like Adam. You must be the other child," she said quietly.
Chester did not speak. He looked at her, head slightly cocked, as if listening for a distant sound.
She opened her eyes. "You look like him, but you're not." She said, frowning. "It's very distressing."
Chester slowly nodded his head. "Yes. It is." He circled her. "Mother?"
Her eyes followed him. "You should go back upstairs. You tire me."
He looked at her for a time, then bowed his head. He backed out of the library. He stood at the door for a while, staring at her, then left.
Chester was sitting at the top of the stairs when William arrived. Chester watched him push into the library. His voice echoed up to Chester's ears in urgent tones. Adam, who had followed his father in, walked up the stairs and sat down next to his brother.
"I think this may be the final straw," Adam said quietly. "Mother already removed us. It's on the school's records."
Chester shook his head. "Father would never put her in the Hospitals. He's blind to her."
Adam sighed and flipped his hair. "Do you remember when Mother was normal?"
"When we were very small. She had episodes. But not as often. She remembered who you were all of the time, not just when you were in front of her."
Chester's gaze was distant "I'm hungry," he said softly.
Adam nodded. "Go back to the room. I'll find something."
The next day William did not go to work. Chester and Adam did not go to school either. William kept Tabitha in the library for most of the day. She finally fell asleep around noon. A half hour later there was a knock at the door. Chester and Adam went to the top of the stairs and watched as William ushered in a woman. Chester's eyes widened. William never invited anyone over, least of all without Tabitha's consent.
The woman asked William something and at his reply she looked around. Upon noticing the children sitting on the step, she smiled. William nodded at her and she hurried upstairs towards them. Adam helped Chester to his feet and they stood, waiting to be met by the guest. She was young and had a mass of dark curly hair. Her figure was round and her skin somewhat suntanned. Breathlessly, and her face flushed a little from hurrying up the stairs, the woman extended a hand to first Chester, then Adam, leaning over a bit to make up for the difference in height.
"Hello, boys," she said brightly. "My name is Laura. Your father has explained a bit of your situation to me. To avoid an incident with the school, I'm to be your tutor for the next year."
"I'm Adam, and this," he said indicating his brother, "Is Chester."
Laura smiled. "Gosh, but you two are handsome. Pardon my staring, but I've never seen identical twins before. You're ten years old, right?"
"Yes," Adam replied. Chester silently nodded.
"Lovely. I am that plus fourteen. I hope we can be good friends, Adam," she said, ruffling his hair. She looked at the other child. "And you, Chester? Would you like to be my friend?"
Laura straightened up. "Your father has said I can have free reign, as it were. Is there an empty room we can use in this great big house?"
Adam led them to the attic room. Laura looked around, at the pile of leather-bound books, and the bed.
"I'll have a word with your father. I think this will work out just fine."
When the woman left Adam looked at his brother. He was staring out the door of the attic.
"This is fantastic, and what's more, this room can't be used for you anymore..." his voice trailed off. "Brother, are you all right?"
Chester caught his brother's gaze. "We'll never leave the house," he said softly.
Before Adam could reply, he noticed both William and Laura were standing in the doorway.
"Well?" William asked. "Miss Laura would like to start on your education tomorrow. Today we'll set this up as a school room for you."
"What about mother?" Adam asked.
William raised an eyebrow. "Your mother will have the situation explained to her."
The next day as the Clock struck 10 AM, Laura arrived. She had a leather bag slung across her, filled with books and papers. She smiled at the boys, who greeted her this time at the foot of the stairs.
"Right then, to the attic," she said, after nodding at them. "Where is your mother today?" She asked as they reached the top of the stairs.
"With father. He decided it was best to get her out of the house for a bit," Adam replied.
"I see. Well, then the place is ours, boys." She cast a sideways glance at Chester, who was still silent. "I won't bite, you know."
"He's like this sometimes," Adam said quickly.
"Very well," Laura replied, as they arrived at the attic.
Adam opened the door for Laura and she grinned. "Such a gentleman, already. Thank you."
Laura wasted no time in setting to teaching. She pulled her books, old and worn, out of her bag and her knowledge flew from them. She was not like any teacher at the schools. She smiled. She told stories. She explained things in ways that made sense. She was something new. Arithmetic and language and sciences flew past them. After several hours Laura sighed.
"I suppose it's time for lunch. Is there anything you two would prefer?"
Adam stood. "I'll get something for us." He left the room.
Laura looked at Chester, who had spent the entire span of lessons in silence.
"You've got very pretty hair, you know." Laura said. "It's darker than your brother's."
Chester raised his eyebrow.
"You're also a lot thinner than Adam. Could you come here?"
He warily stood and approached her. She cast her gaze over him.
"Let me guess... your favorite thing to eat is... chocolate?"
She saw his mouth twitch a little, but he did not speak. She touched the side of his face with her fingertips and he flinched.
"I know what you are, you know," she said in a low voice. She leaned down so their eyes were on the same level.
"You've got too much faerie blood. You can do special things."
His eyebrows shot up.
"It's alright, Chester. I know all about it. I'm special too." She put her hand through her hair and pulled a dark, glittering feather out of the mass. She placed it in his hands. "We're not so different, you and I."
He looked up at her, his eyes softer. Before he could resist she wrapped her arms around him and embraced him. He was stiff and unresponsive for a few seconds, but then something in him broke and let himself be held. She pulled away and smoothed his long hair.
"Now let's start again. I'm Laura, and it's a pleasure to meet you. "
He looked up at her and his lips curled slightly as he took her proffered hand. "I am Chester."
When Laura left, late that afternoon, Chester watched her go from the top of the stairs. He had tucked the feather she had given him under his shirt during the day. He pulled it out and twirled it, watching the rainbow of colors dance off of it. Adam came and sat down next to him.
"You spoke to her."
"Why?" Adam asked.
Chester made no reply.
"What's that?" Adam asked, indicating the feather.
"She's kind of plain," Adam said after a while.
Chester rubbed the feather between his fingers. "No. I think she's beautiful."
Several months passed with Laura as their tutor, and winter came on cold and fast to West Clocktown. When Laura arrived at 10 AM, one day in early December, her threadbare coat was covered in snowflakes. Chester, who had been waiting for her at the foot of the stairs, immediately approached.
"Hello, Chester. Where is your brother?"
"He's ill. Father is home today tending him. And mother, she is in bed as well."
"I see." Laura frowned, and thought about it. "Wait here, I'm going to check on your brother and have a word with your father."
Chester seated himself, once more on the foot of the stairs. A few minutes passed, then his tutor practically flew down the stairs, bearing black wool coat for Chester, as well as gloves.
"Quick, quick, put them on. I am taking you out for the day."
Mystified, Chester put on the outerwear. Laura quickly buttoned his coat and stood back. "Very fetching. Ready then? Need to grab anything?"
Chester shook his head.
Laura smiled and took his hand. "Let's be off, then."
They left the house and wandered down the path that led from the house to Kipling Street. A vehicle was waiting at the curb, apparently summoned by someone inside the house; probably William. Laura ushered her student, then herself inside, and closed the door behind them.
"Take us to Carroll, will you?" Laura said, leaning up to the driver. The vehicle took off.
Laura shivered and rubbed her bare hands together. "My, but it is chilly today."
Chester watched her huddle for warmth for a while, then placed his gloved hands over hers. "You're cold," he said simply. She pulled her hands away from his and smoothed his long hair back.
"Ah, but you warm my heart. And how about this? I get to go out with a proper gentleman today." She tapped his nose. "You be sure to treat me nice."
The vehicle slowed as it pulled onto Carroll Street, heading north, towards the Pit. Laura tapped the driver after a while, told him a time to meet them, and they exited the vehicle.
"Now, I know you've been to the Hospitals before, and probably the southern side of Carroll, but I know you've probably never been down this close."
Chester looked at the store fronts. They had grown distinctly shabbier the further they had gone down Carroll.
"What do you want to do?"
"Well, then we'll just walk, see if anything strikes us."
They started walking. The wind picked up the more they walked, and Chester kept looking at Laura's bare hands.
Before he realized what he was doing, his eyes glowed a soft violet, and he twisted his fingers. Laura's threadbare coat had disappeared and in its place was a soft looking red wool one with a black fur collar. Chester gasped. Laura stopped and stared at him. His irises had already begun fading back to grey. Laura ran her hands across her changed coat.
"Did you just do that?" she asked, full of wonder.
He hung his head. "I didn't mean to-"
"Goodness, Chester, it's beautiful." She touched his shoulder. "That's a powerful gift you have."
He looked up at her. Her eyes were still big with surprise but her expression was soft, even pleased.
"Incredibly powerful. Just try not to change things in public. Some Westerners aren't very forgiving of such gifts, no matter how beautiful they are." She touched his nose. "But never, ever be ashamed of something so wonderful."
She straightened up. "It's nice and warm too. Thank you."
He exhaled deeply and walked along beside her again, in silence. Suddenly there appeared before him a tall, narrow storefront, and he paused. The word "Bookstore" was in gold above the door. Laura noticed him pausing, and tapped his head.
"Ah, so something has caught your eye. Would you like to go inside?"
He did not reply, but moved forward towards the door. Laura followed him.
It was warm in the store, and smelled of wood burning in a stove in the corner, and lots of pages. It was a tall, narrow place, two stories, crammed floor to ceiling with bookshelves. There were precarious stacks of books dotting the floor, and Chester had to weave through them carefully to avoid toppling them. His eyes were bright, barely glowing violet in the dimly lit room. He picked up a volume, thumbed through it, then dug out a new one. Laura watched him, leaning against a shelf. Time moved slowly until Chester found a volume he could not put back. He approached Laura, holding it aloft.
"I want this."
"Please, I can pay you back."
Her face was unmoved, but her eyes smiled. "Very well."
They returned home after a visit to a quiet little teahouse. The house seemed even colder, more vacant. Laura ushered Chester up the stairs and past the rooms where his family were. She closed the door to the attic room behind them. It was chilly up here, but there was a mass of blankets on the bed in the corner of what was now the schoolroom. She threw them on Chester, who still clutched his book, then burrowed under them herself.
"Yes," she said quietly.
Chester shifted and leaned against her. She kissed the top of his head.
"You're a sweet boy."
As the chill fled from them, she noticed Chester's breathing had deepened and slowed. She carefully pulled the boots off his feet, took the book from his grasp, and laid him flat on the bed. She tucked the blankets around him securely, and smoothed his long pale hair. As she leaned over him, there was a soft knock on the door. She did not move to answer it, but William entered the room.
"Long day?" he asked.
"Yes. He'll sleep soundly."
"I had to sedate Tabitha. She was working up a frenzy over Adam. He is resting now too. Just a bit of a fever."
Laura did not turn her head. "You'd never let him see the Pit."
"Of course not, his mother would-"
"She is barely aware of Chester's existence on a good day."
"Yes, but on a bad day she..." his voice trailed off.
Laura continued stroking Chester's hair. "He's such a good child."
William approached and knelt down next to her, and looked at his son. Without warning, he put his hand in Laura's hair and pulled out a dark feather. He held it up.
"I know you feel a connection to him because of this."
She stood and moved to the other side of the room. "Of course I do, Will. How could I not?"
"You can't love him."
"Why not? It's not like he's getting a wealth of affection from his parents."
"Laura," William began, crossing the room to her.
"No. You can't tell me not to love my own nephew."
William took her hands in his. "Laura, I don't want Tabitha to hurt him anymore, and I don't want her hurting you either. The children need you right now, but if you get too attached it could be very bad." He pulled his hands away. She held the black feather in her hands.
"I know, Will. I just can't help but adore him. You don't know what I would do to have a son like him."
"I wish it weren't like this," William said simply. "But I will not pit my wife against my little sister. Please be careful." He paused in the doorway. "I love my son too."
Sometime in the night, Chester sat straight up in the bed and looked around. "Who's there?"
"Just me," Adam's voice answered weakly.
Chester sat up in the dark and grasped for his new book. He folded his hands on top of it, and an oil lamp appeared in its place, burning bright.
"Is something wrong?"
"I can't sleep," Adam whispered. His voice was weak. "And I'm freezing."
Chester crossed the room and knelt next to him. He put a hand on his forehead. "You're burning up."
Adam's teeth chattered. Chester led him to the bed and covered him up with the blankets. "I'll fetch father."
"You don't have to."
"I will. I'll go now."
Chester left his room and wandered down the hall. As he passed by, he noticed his father sitting at the top of the stairs. His face was in his hands.
"Father?" William looked up. There was something haggard about his expression.
"Mm? What is it, Chester?"
"Adam he's... in the schoolroom. He's worse."
William stood and hurried to the attic, followed by Chester. Adam was lying on the floor shaking violently, his teeth clattering together.
William knelt and felt his forehead, and took a quick pulse. He quickly took his jacket off and laid it over the boy.
"Chester, I have to take him to the Hospitals immediately."
"What's wrong with him?"
William lifted Adam and laid him on the bed. "His condition is getting worse. I can't treat him here."
"What's wrong with him?" Chester asked more urgently.
William rushed out of the room.
Chester sat down next to Adam and looked at him. "Don't do this." Chester said. "Please don't do this." He stared at the floor hard, feeling choked.
William rushed back into the room and lifted Adam off of the bed and up to his chest.
"He's delirious," William said, hurrying past Chester.
"Please, let me come too," Chester said.
"I need you to stay here," William said.
"Don't leave me here with her. I want to stay with Adam."
William paused for a moment and turned his head. "Chester, if this spreads to you I would never forgive myself. You must stay here."
Chester stared at his father as he carried Adam away.
As the door shut behind them, Chester heard a low groan from his parents' room. He turned and entered their room. Tabitha was lying there, cushioned in dozens of pillows, some of them overflowing onto the floor. He watched as she tossed and turned, twisting the velvet blankets.
"Adam," she moaned.
"He's gone," Chester said quietly.
She sat up, her tangled hair seeming to float around her. "What's happening to him? Why are they taking him away?"
"He's sick," Chester said.
"You lie." Tabitha pulled at her hair. "You are nothing but a worthless little liar."
"He might be dying."
"You lie, you lie!" She threw herself back into her pillows.
"It's all your fault," Chester said.
Tabitha was sobbing and throwing her pillows to the floor. "Why do you say such things, Chester?"
He shook his head and left the room, closing the door behind him. Even down the hall, he could hear her screaming, "Why do you say such things?"
He wandered down the stairs. The whole house felt cold and empty. He could hear the echo of his bare steps on the floor as he crossed the front room to the library. He went inside and stood, staring at the shelves. He went to the nearest one and pulled a false book out. It was so lightweight, so hollow. He threw it on the ground, and pulled out another, and another, and another. He pulled on the shelf and the entire heavy oak bookcase toppled over. He stared at it, not registering any meaning.
He felt a cold touch on his shoulder and looked up. Laura smiled at him, and the look crumpled him. He slid to the floor. She knelt down next to him, over the pile of false books.
"It will be alright," she said.
"How do you know?"
She embraced him. "I don't."
"What if Adam dies?" Chester muttered into her hair. "What if he leaves me?"
"Do not talk like that, Chester. No one is leaving anyone." She pulled away from him and smoothed his hair back. "Now, you've made a fine mess of the library, haven't you? Pick it up."
Chester lifted the heavy oak bookshelf, straining his thin body, but Laura did not offer to help and he did not complain. When it was righted, he began to pick up the scattered false books.
"Why are you here?" he asked after a while.
"Your father called me. He figured you needed some looking after. And Tabitha needs someone to give her medicine."
Chester nodded and shelved the last of the false books. Laura smiled approvingly when he turned to look at her.
"It's late. I'll give your mother her medicine then you should get to bed."
"I like this room," Chester said. "I wish it had real books."
"Yes. We all prefer the real thing."
Laura managed to convince Tabitha she was not a ghoul and to stop thrashing and take the syrupy liquid William left on the side table. Chester waited outside for her, then followed her up to the school room. Laura had figured out that, for some reason, he preferred the attic to his actual bedroom. She tucked him in, as she had earlier in the evening, what felt like years ago.
"Are you going to stay here?" Chester asked as she smoothed the blanket over him.
"Yes, I told you your father wants me to."
"That's not what I meant."
She stared into his troubled grey eyes. "Oh, Chester, I couldn't leave you."
The next day passed slowly. Laura cooked them some bland food, forced some down Tabitha, and administered her medicine again. She sat down on the top of the steps next to Chester with a plate.
"I'm not much of a cook," she said, passing the plate to him. "But you need to eat something."
He shook his head. "I am not hungry."
"Come on, you're breaking my heart."
He took a few half-hearted bites.
As they sat there, the front door opened. William, even from their vantage point, looked exhausted. Adam was not with him. Chester immediately stood up, abandoning the plate.
"How is he?"
William sighed deeply. Chester and Laura met him at the bottom of the stairs.
"How is he?" Chester asked again. "What's wrong with him?"
William looked at Chester. He had dark rings around his eyes.
"We have to leave him alone for a while. He has to stay in the Hospitals. We just have to wait it out." He passed a hand over his face. "How is Tabitha?" he posed this question to Laura.
"I gave her some food earlier. She's sedated now," she replied.
He nodded. "That's probably best." He ran a hand through his tousled hair. "I'm going to go to the library and try and rest for a bit. If anything happens to Tabitha or we get any messages at all, please let me know."
William wandered downstairs, to the library.
Chester looked up at Laura. He opened his mouth to speak, but she shook her head. There was nothing to say. Chester leaned against her, her dark hair brushing across his face. They sat for a long while, watching the sunlight on the floor shift for a while. Chester did not think about anything. He just wanted to disappear into Laura, into her dark hair, and forget about his mother or even his twin.
"I wish..." he said after a while.
"I wish you and I could just vanish," Chester said.
"Don't wish things like that," Laura said quietly. "Your brother needs you."
"No he doesn't. He has father and mother."
Laura stroked Chester's hair. "I know you have not been treated fairly."
"But I have you," he said.
She smiled at him, but it didn't reach her eyes. "Oh Chester." She put her arms around him and held him close. "You have me."
Laura did not shirk her duties as a tutor, and took Chester into the schoolroom after a while and they performed a few equations, but eventually the steam ran out, and they sat side by side on the bed. Laura ran a hand through Chester's long hair.
"You should tie it up or something. It's tangled up."
"Adam does not tie his up. Mother won't let him."
"Well that's silly."
"I promised him to keep my hair the same."
Laura paused and pulled her hand out of his hair. "What is your new book about?"
"It's about a man who loves someone who cannot love him back."
"You like sad stories?"
Chester shrugged. "I suppose I do."
Laura picked the book up from the floor. "I do too."
She cracked the book open, and the cover squeaked satisfyingly. "I'll read to you for a bit if you like."
"Yes, I would like that very much."
"In the spring there were beautiful roses, and in the autumn, the trees were honey colored..." she began.
Chester leaned back and swam in the words of his tutor. Her voice was not particularly impressive, but it took on a deep, rich quality when she read. Even her face looked more beautiful to him, when she spoke the words out of that book. The story was sad and the poor man could never persuade his love, but Chester only vaguely cared about that. He watched Laura's face changing.
He opened his mouth after a moment, and Laura paused and looked up. "Yes?"
"I... you seem sad."
"It's a sad story."
"Why does it make you sad?"
She dropped her eyes and shook her head.
"I am sorry," Chester said after a while.
She turned back to the book. "It's not polite to interrupt," she said gently.
"I don't want you to be sad." Chester said.
She looked at him and raised an eyebrow. "Sadness is part of life. You can't change that."
"I can change things."
She smiled, but just barely, and shook her head, setting the book aside. "Sadness isn't something that can just be magicked away."
"What if I married you?"
She raised her eyebrows and smiled deeply. "Oh Chester, you can't marry me."
"You're just a child."
"I'll get older."
"And then you'll be wanting girls your own age."
He looked at her seriously. "No, I won't."
She touched his cheek gently. "You'll grow up someday. And time changes everything."
"I don't think it will."
"It will. You'll be a fine young man with a fine wife and have a fine library simply bursting with books."
"And what will you do?"
A wail suddenly burst out.
Laura climbed off the bed. "Your mother, she must have woken up." She hurried out of the room.
Chester carefully set his new book down and then wandered out of the room, following Laura at a bit of a distance down the hallway. She appeared not to notice him. Wails rose as he approached his mother's room. He paused in the doorway and peered in. Tabitha was having a sort of fit, shrieking and giving low moans, and pulling at her long hair. Her beautiful face was contorted. Laura had grasped her shoulders and tried to restrain her.
"You're a monster, a monster. Why are you in my house?" Tabitha wailed.
"You need to calm down," Laura said, trying to hold her.
"You're a thief! You're trying to rob me!"
Laura was heavier than Tabitha, but she was considerably shorter, and had a difficult time trying to grasp Tabitha's long flailing arms.
Chester thought of helping, but he was frozen. He realized that his mother was pathetic and not at all frightening. She seemed utterly spent, scraping at air, almost clownish. She was ridiculous. The thought seared in his brain. He almost felt sorry for her.
"Where are the children?" Tabitha wailed, tears spilling out of her eyes. "You've taken them haven't you? You're hurting Adam. You're going to take him away! Don't take Adam away from me!"
Laura's eyes flashed to a brilliant maroon, almost luminous. Her arms suddenly made an audible crack, and long claws grew from her fingertips, and her forearms blackened and the skin became scaly. It looked like her arms had been replaced with the talons of a great raven. She dug her claws into Tabitha's shoulders, who screamed and began sobbing heavily, but ceased fighting and went limp.
Laura looked up and saw Chester standing there in the doorway. His eyes were wide. He could barely breathe. His heart was pounding wildly as she looked at him with those fae eyes. They were inhuman. She was inhuman. Laura's eyes suddenly faded to their normal color.
"Chester," she said quietly. "It's okay. Everything is okay." She released her grip on Tabitha, and reached over to the bedside table for Tabitha's medicine. The talons were still there, and she could barely clasp the bottle. Chester shook himself and, not looking at her, sidled into the room and took the bottle out of her claws, shuddering at their touch. He opened the bottle, not looking at Laura and administered the medicine to his mother, now lethargic, her eyes staring in terror.
"I frighten you," Laura said quietly. She laid the heavy talon on his shoulder, and he felt it shift back into a normal human hand. "I'm sorry."
She patted his hair with her soft hands. "You're shaking," she said.
He did not look at her. "It's not your fault."
He shrugged her hand off, and left the room quietly. He wandered to his room and stared at of the window. He had not been in this room in several days, he realized. He wondered why he avoided it.
He still saw his mother's face, her strange, sad, pitiful face, blank with fear. He shook his head. After a few minutes, Laura entered the room. She did not speak, merely stood in the doorway, looking at him.
"Laura," he said softly. "Show me again." He turned to look at her.
Laura looked at him wearily, then closed her eyes. When she opened them again, they burned a fierce, dark burgundy. Her arms shifted and her hair became thick with dark feathers. Her face seemed stretched and birdlike. It looked enormously painful. He watched her skin begin to protrude with feathers, and then with a sudden cry, the rest of her body abruptly changed. Then, standing before him was an enormous corvid, possibly a raven, sleek and dark and the size of a plump young woman.
Chester stared at it for a long time, and it cocked its head and looked at him. Its huge eyes were dark and intelligent. Chester approached it slowly. He put a hand out and stroked the feathered side, and the blackness shimmered beneath his hands.
"Can you fly?"
In response, the bird flapped out its wings, nearly knocking Chester over. But then it folded them back primly.
"Why don't you leave?"
The bird turned its head, and it seemed for a moment that those huge dark eyes were sad. Chester nodded. "I wish I could too."
He buried his head in the bird's side and whispered, "I love you, Laura."
The bird fanned out its wings again, and after some violent shifting, his tutor stood before him again. She put her hands in his hair, and ruffled it gently.
"Are you okay, love?" she asked. He had kept his face pressed against her side.
"You are amazing," Chester said, lifting his head up.
"Well, so are you," Laura said. "I've never met anyone as amazing as you. Chester, you can change things. You could change anything."
Chester shook his head. "I cannot."
"Yes you could. You know, you could change everything for the better. I'd like very much to see that."
"All I wanted, when I saw your arms change like that, was to see my mother afraid," Chester said quietly, looking at the floor. "I'm not good."
Laura smiled at him. "Yes you are. You are the greatest good I have."
Chester did not respond.
Laura straightened up. "Well, it has been quite an afternoon. I know just the thing for it. A cup of tea with extra milk and honey."
"I do not like tea," Chester said.
"Oh but you've never had my tea," Laura said. "With extra milk and honey."
The day slid past, and eventually William rose and returned to the Hospitals to look in on Adam. Chester and Laura were in the dining room, which was a bit dusty and dark. It was rarely used except for social events. The table was too large and bare and they sat together at the end, each with a tiny porcelain cup before them. Chester scratched at the oak tabletop with his nails.
"Adam and I used to sneak sweets from the cupboard and eat them in here."
Laura put her hand over his.
"Mother only comes in here when there is a party or some sort. We could sit here for hours." Chester stopped scratching. "It is not Adam's fault."
"I know, Chester," Laura said, giving his hand a squeeze. "I know you love your brother very much."
Laura stirred and plucked up their teacups and the nearby teapot onto a tray.
Chester followed her into the kitchen. His head nodded and he went slightly limp. Laura caught him, and shook his shoulders.
"You're tired, love."
She lifted him gently, and was surprised by how light he was. She knew Chester preferred the attic, but carried him to the more comfortable bedroom. She was always struck with how dark the hallway was, but managed to not bump into any walls and deposit him into his bed. She tucked the blankets around him and turned out the lights.
Chester awoke to a soft touch on his face. Someone was smoothing back his long hair. He was in the bedroom, which confused him deeply, but the mattress was deep and comfortable. He considered going back to sleep. But something in the touch gave him pause. He opened his eyes. It was not Laura, but Tabitha, her long golden hair glimmering in the dim light, her grey eyes surprisingly sharp.
"Rest, Chester, my darling. It's still early."
He felt that he could not move. A cold shot through his veins. "Where's Laura?" He managed to say.
"You would rather see that fat slut than your own mother?"
"Much rather," he said.
"You wound me, dear one." She pulled her hand away.
Chester immediately tried to sit up, but she pushed him back, with surprising force for someone so slender and weak looking.
"You need to take your medicine," Chester said, looking for an opening to crawl away. "It's worn off."
"You and that woman would take everything from me, would you not?" Tabitha said. Her eyes were not at all like they had been earlier. They were assured and calculating. Her voice was devoid of emotion. "I see the way she's insinuated herself here, trying to steal my husband and my children. What has she done to you, Chester?"
He did not respond.
"I tried to drown you when you were an infant," Tabitha said casually. "But I couldn't go through with it. I loved you too much, even though you're just an imperfect copy."
Tabitha's hands were still pressed down on his chest. Despite her thin frame, Chester was far smaller, it felt like an elephant pinning him.
"You should be grateful. Mind your manners. Do not cause accidents. Do not leave."
Chester tried to wriggle out from her, the weight of her was excruciating. She moved her hands and relief flooded through him. "Mother, you are not well, let me go."
"No," Tabitha said, stroking his cheek. "You mustn't leave me, you strange, imperfect child."
She suddenly clasped his neck in both of her hands, and squeezed. Chester kicked at her and scratched at her, but her grasp was firm. His mouth opened and closed, but nothing came in, his air was utterly cut off. He wondered, almost detached, if she would break his neck. He thought he heard Laura's voice nearby, yelling he knew not what, though he thought that she was coming to save him. A peace washed over him, and his actions became mechanical. His eyes glowed violet. He twisted his fingers sharply and painfully. And there fell against his chest a heavy volume. His mother was gone. Chester sat up and coughed and spat, and his throat throbbed and his head ached. He threw the book across the room. He realized that the bed beneath him had changed itself into a pile of books, heavy and sturdy.
He stood up, and found his legs were wobbly. He managed to stumble out into the hall and found a book outside his door. He could attach no meaning to it, and nearly stumbled over it. "Laura," he croaked. "Laura, where are you?" He ran down the stairs and into the library, but there was no one there. There was no one in the kitchen, or the dining room, or bedrooms. And there was no furniture. The beds, the piano, the tables, everything was gone. But there were books.
He wandered back to his room and looked closely at the book that had been Tabitha. It had no title. He opened it and found the sentences ran into each other without meaning and sometimes shot up the side of the page. The ink was green. Something about it made him feel dizzy. His stomach turned and he felt the tea start to come back up. He twisted his fingers, as far as his skeleton allowed, but the book did not shift.
He turned his attention back to the pile that had been the bed and it immediately shaped itself back into the warm, luxurious bed, covered in bright velvet.
But the book with green ink did not so much as flutter a page.
He stared for a long time, his head empty of thought. Something went out of him, and blackness washed over all.
He awoke to a touch on his shoulder. He hoped desperately that it had been a dream and that he was safe in the attic, and Laura was there to teach him arithmetic or finish reading the book.
"What happened, Chester?" It was William, shaking his shoulder gently, and kneeling over him. He was on the floor of the bedroom, and nothing made any sense.
"What?" he croaked.
"There are books all over the house and your mother is missing."
"Mother she..." Chester's voice died.
"Where is your mother?" There was despair in his voice. William looked around the room and back at Chester. "What has happened to your neck?"
"Where's Laura?" Chester asked, barely aware of what William had said.
"When I left she was with you."
"But she's not anywhere in the...." Suddenly a weight settled on Chester's mind. He sat up and pushed past his father. The book in front of the door, the one he had stumbled over, was still there. It was beautiful, on its cover was a complex knot in leatherwork. The pages were lined in gold. He opened it carefully, his fingers trembling. The beginning of the opening paragraph had a silhouette of a bird, a black bird, perhaps a crow or a raven printed above it. He closed the book carefully.
"Chester?" William had come up behind him. "What happened?"
Chester's eyes were glowing softly.
"She's gone," he said. "I... changed everything." He looked up at William. "I'm not good."
"What are you talking about?"
"Where is Adam?" Chester asked quietly.
"He's at the Hospitals."
Chester looked at his father. William's face was very sad, and concerned. But Chester had already settled into that strange peace, and his eyes were little bright flames of violet.
"Father," Chester said. "I am sorry. I am so sorry."
He twisted his fingers.