Zach stood up, pacing the small room. “You guys have to make up. You’re friends. You’re supposed to be friends. You can’t just not talk, or talk in the weird not-talking way you’ve both been.”
Alice shook her head. “You don’t understand. It’s just—it’s easy for Poppy. She wants this one thing, and I better want it too. Either I’m with her or against her, you know? And she’s like that about everything.”
“I don’t think it’s easy for her,” Zach said.
Alice sighed. “If she wants to be friends, then she can say so. I get that the quest is important, but it seems like maybe it’s the only important thing.”
Zach sighed again and opened the door to the main room of the library.
He found Poppy at a long table, where she’d spread out several maps, an atlas, and a guidebook. She was standing on a chair, looking down on all of it. The Queen was resting at one end, lying on her side, limp arms outstretched.
“Did you find it?” Zach asked.
She turned with a start. She must not have heard him come in.
“Here,” she said, stepping onto the table and walking over to one of the maps, where she crouched down and pointed. “Spring Grove Cemetery.”
“You’re sure?” asked Alice, and it was Zach’s turn to be surprised. He hadn’t expected that she would follow him.
“I didn’t have an aerial view in my dreams, but it looks right,” Poppy said. “We should go tonight. There might be streetlights down there, and the moon is pretty full. Even without a flashlight, I think we can find her grave. And then it’s over. I promise.”
Alice rolled her eyes.
“I’ll copy the map,” Poppy said.
“Okay,” said Zach. “Get me when you’re ready.” He picked up a book of local history that Poppy must have pulled from the stacks, and walked off toward a couple of couches he’d spotted near the picture-book section.
Flopping down, he flipped through the book, skimming over the section on local folklore. There wasn’t any mention of an Eleanor Kerchner or a haunted doll, but there was a story about a Dutch girl who haunted a canal lock and a creepy little boy who hung himself. And there was a lady who got stood up on her wedding day and was found, weeks later, dead in her wedding gown. Legend had it that her bleached white skeleton ran around playing in traffic and grabbing people. When Zach got bored, he slipped pieces of paper, on which he’d written cryptic words, between the pages.
A little while later he heard the quiet murmur of voices and hoped that meant that Poppy and Alice were making up. He thought that maybe he would just close his eyes for a second.
After all, they were going to be digging up a grave, and they were going to have to do it with scissors or sticks or whatever other tools they could find. It was going to be hard work. But it was going to get done; Zach was sure about that. So he needed to rest a little. He leaned back on the couch, turning his cheek against the crook of his arm.
THIS TIME HE dreamed that he was lying on a lawn, looking up at a big house. He couldn’t get his legs to move. There was something wrong with his vision. It was darkening at the edges, but he could see enough to notice that there were shattered remains of porcelain dolls all around him.
And then he heard a voice, which he knew to be Eleanor’s father. “She looks just like one of them. She looks just like a broken doll.”
WHEN HE WOKE up, a woman he didn’t know was standing over him. She looked like she was about to scream, but he beat her to it.
THE WOMAN BROUGHT HER THIN ARMS UP Defensively, as though his shouting was some kind of attack. He scrabbled up onto the couch and then over it, landing on the other side. She blinked owlishly behind her bright-green glasses. She was about his mother’s age, with short, curly, bright-pink hair.
Above her, light streamed in from the windows. It was Sunday morning. He’d slept through the whole night.
Looking around, he spotted Poppy and Alice lying on the other couch, heads pillowed on opposite sides. They were both opening their eyes. Poppy pushed herself up.
“Who are you?” Zach asked the woman.
“I work here,” she said. “I’m a librarian. I came in on the weekend, like I always do—I have to do my orders for new books, and it’s easier when there aren’t any patrons. Now, do you want to tell me what you three are doing here? And are you alone? I thought I heard something downstairs.”
“Um,” Zach said, still dazed from sleep. Answers deserted him.
“It’s just us,” said Alice, rubbing her face. “We left the window open. You probably heard the wind.”
The librarian peered at the three of them more closely. “You’re lucky I didn’t immediately call the police. How old are you?”
His brain was finally catching up to what was going on, and he realized just how much trouble they were in. “Twelve,” he said.
She turned to Alice and Poppy. “Where exactly do your parents think you are?”
“Well, we’re going to go into the office and we’re going to call them right now, okay? And you better not have vandalized this place, or I’m going to change my mind and call the cops after all.”
“We didn’t mess up anything,” Poppy said. “Look around and see if we’re telling the truth, and then if we are, you can let us go. We won’t be any more trouble.”
“It’s either we call your parents,” the pink-haired librarian said, “or we call the police.”
Adrenaline spiked through Zach. He considered running. If they all sprinted for the doors, he was pretty certain they’d make it. Alice’s shoes were off, which was a problem, but maybe she could grab them. And then there was the doll. Poppy didn’t seem to be holding her, which was unusual. He thought about the last time he’d woken up and found the Queen not where she’d been the night before, but when he glanced around the library, nothing else seemed amiss. The couches hadn’t been ripped; there was no scattered stuffing and no tossed packages of food from the break room.
By that point, though, he’d lost his chance. The librarian was waving them up off the couches, and he couldn’t catch either girl’s eye, so if he ran, he wasn’t sure they’d follow.
“Come on in the back and I’ll make you a cup of tea,” the pink-haired librarian said. “You all look like you could use it.”
They must have seemed pretty scruffy as they shuffled to the break room in the same clothes they’d been wearing for a day and two nights. The cat ears on Alice’s hoodie were bent at odd angles, and there was ink smeared across Poppy’s cheek, like maybe one of the pens she’d been using had started to bleed. Zach wondered if the librarian thought they were homeless kids. He wondered if telling her they were would make her let them go.
Halfway across the library floor, Poppy stopped. “Wait, where’s the Queen?” Her voice was high-pitched, panicked.
“You don’t know?” Zach asked. He looked around again, as though somehow the doll was going to materialize out of the ether.
The librarian raised her eyebrows, as though waiting for an explanation.
“A doll,” Zach said. “She’s really old. Poppy must have lost her.”
“Well, where did you have her last?” Alice asked Poppy.
“I brought her with me when I went to the couch,” she said. “I know I did. She was right there next to me when I went to sleep.”
“Before that, she was on the map table,” Zach put in. “Maybe you forgot—”
“I saw the doll,” Alice interrupted, “when we went to sleep. Someone must have gotten up and moved her.”
Poppy started to go look when the librarian caught her arm.
“All of you,” she said with an impressive firmness. “You will go into the break room, and then we’ll deal with the missing doll and your parents and everything else. The library is closed. If the doll is here, we’ll find it. Meanwhile, it’s not going anywhere. Now, let’s go.”
Zach really hoped the doll wasn’t going anywhere.
They sat down on folding chairs around the break-room table as the librarian put on the electric kettle. She looked through the cabinets until she found a package of Fig Newtons, which she ripped open and put in front of them.
“I’m Katherine Rausse,” she said. “You may call me Miss Katherine. Not Kathy, Katherine.”
“I’m Poppy,” Poppy said. “Poppy Bell. And this is Alice Magnaye and Zachary Barlow.”
“Very melodic names,” said the librarian, pulling mugs out of a cupboard. The water had heated quickly, so she was able to take out tea bags, drop one in each mug, and fill them with boiling water. Steam rose from each, along with the comforting smell of bruised leaves. “We don’t have milk, but I’ll put the sugar on the table. Now, I am going to call my director and inform her of what’s going on. I am going to lock this door, but I will be right back, so if you need to use the bathroom or anything, I promise that I will take you as soon as I return.”
She went out, leaving them alone, the click of the latch signaling that she wasn’t kidding about locking them inside.
Zach had no idea how they were going to get out of the break room. No idea how they were going to find the Queen. No idea how they were going to do anything but go home in disgrace, their quest forever undone. The idea of stopping now, though, when they were so close, grated on Zach. It drove him nuts that if they’d just gone to the graveyard last night—if he’d just been less lazy—the quest might be over and done.
Poppy peered at her mug. Then, abruptly, she wiped her eyes with the back of one hand. “I’m sorry,” she said.
Alice sighed. “It’s not your fault. I’m the one who broke in.”
“And I’m the one who fell asleep,” Zach said. “You’re the one who kept reminding us, Poppy. It’s not your fault—”
Poppy cut him off. “That’s not what I mean. I thought that we could do this thing, and when it was over we’d have something that no one else had—an experience that would keep us together. I can see you changing.” She turned to Zach. “You’re going to be one of those guys who hangs out with their teammates and dates cheerleaders and doesn’t remember what it was like to make up stuff. And you—” She whirled on Alice. “You’re going to be too busy thinking about boys and trying out for school plays and whatever to remember. It’s like you’re both forgetting everything. You’re forgetting who you are. I thought this would remind you. And I’m sorry because it was stupid. I was stupid.”
“That’s not fair,” Alice said.
“Yeah, I didn’t forget,” said Zach. Poppy sounded just like his dad, except in reverse. He didn’t want to forget, and he wanted everyone to stop talking like it was inevitable, like it would happen whether he wanted it to or not.
Alice rolled her eyes. “We’re not zombies just because we like stuff you don’t.”
“No, you’re right,” Poppy said, her voice speeding up and getting louder, like she was afraid she was going to be cut off before she got it all out. “It’s not fair. We had a story, and our story was important. And I hate that both of you can just walk away and take part of my story with you and not even care. I hate that you can do what you’re supposed to do and I can’t. I hate that you’re going to leave me behind. I hate that everyone calls it growing up, but it seems like dying. It feels like each of you is being possessed and I’m next.”
Zach and Alice were quiet for a long moment.
Before they could speak, the door opened and Miss Katherine came in. Her glasses were hanging around her neck from a chain, and she looked a little nervous. “Well,” she said, “the director wants me to tell you that if there’s something wrong at home, we can call social services instead of your parents.”
There was a long silence.
“I am going to assume that means we’re going with the original plan.” She nodded to herself, her pink curls bouncing as she did. “Now, who wants to call home first?”
Alice stood up, pushing her chair back. “I’ll go. My grandmother’s probably worried.”
“You sure?” Poppy said. “I can call first if you want.”
Alice gave her a withering look. “No, that’s okay. Don’t do me any favors.”
When they were gone, Zach drank his tea and ate five Fig Newtons, although they tasted like nothing in his mouth. He chewed and swallowed automatically.
“Are you mad at me?” Poppy asked.
“No,” Zach said. Then, after considering it a little more, “Maybe.”
“How much trouble do you think she’s going to get in?” Poppy asked him.
“Lots,” he said, putting his head down on his arms.
She slumped at the table and rested her head in a gesture that mirrored his. He thought about the way they’d all been friends for so long that they even shared mannerisms. He thought about how they’d met, years ago.
He thought about what Poppy had said about growing up and losing themselves.
And how bad it would be if Alice got in so much trouble that they could never see her again.
And how awful it would be if Alice and Poppy never made up.
He thought about what his mother and father were going to say when he called, and what he could possibly say back.
He thought about the stories, all the stories. The ones they’d made up and the ones they never had.