Get in,” Ronan said.


“Where are we going?” asked Matthew. But he was already climbing in, throwing his bag in the back. He shut the door. The interior of the car instantly smelled like a cologne sample.

Ronan put the BMW in gear. Aglionby shrank in the rearview mirror. “Home.”

“Home!” yelped Matthew. Clutching the door handle, he stared over his shoulder as if bystanders would divine their destination. “Ronan, we can’t. Declan said —”

Ronan slammed on the brakes. The tires squealed obligingly and the car jerked to a halt by the sidewalk. The car behind them honked and went around. “You can get out here and walk back, if you want. But I’m going. Do you want to or not?”

His younger brother’s already round eyes were even rounder. “Declan —”

“Don’t say his name.”

Little dimples appeared in Matthew’s chin, the sort that had meant, when he was three or four, that he was going to cry. He did not cry. Ronan wished for a half a second that he didn’t hate Declan, for Matthew’s sake.

“Okay,” Matthew said. “Are you sure it will be okay?” “No,” Ronan replied, because he always told the truth. Matthew put on his seat belt.

Ronan rummaged through his MP3 player until he found a playlist of bouzouki music. Matthew hadn’t played since Niall Lynch died, but he’d been pretty good at it before then. It felt indulgent. Ronan rationed the music from their old life, as if he used up a bit of his memories of his father every time he played it. Surely this occasion warranted it, though.

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As the tune plucked through the speakers, his younger brother let all of the air escape from his lungs. And Ronan drove home for the second time.

This time felt different. Having Matthew along should have made returning to the Barns feel more familiar than before, but instead it only served to remind Ronan of how forbidden this was. The sunshine made it a more anxious trip as well, as if the bright light left them more exposed as they drove down the driveway.

Ronan went slowly until he verified that the home nurse’s car wasn’t there, and then he drove around the back of the house to where an overgrown, mildew-green equipment shed stood.

“Open that door,” he ordered Matthew. “Hurry up.”

Matthew scrambled out, pawed away some of the creeper, and struggled to lift the metal door. He dragged a small, rusted lawn mower out of the way, and Ronan backed the BMW in. He turned it off, pulled down the door again, and checked to be sure the tires hadn’t left obvious marks.

“James Bond,” Matthew remarked inexplicably. He was incredibly cheerful. “What’s that?”

Ronan held the puzzle box under his arm. “A shoe box.”

Matthew cocked his head, working this out. He took in the facts: the perfectly square box was clearly wooden, covered with strange markings, and several inches shorter than his older brother’s feet.

Matthew blinked. Then he said, “Okay!” Trotting ahead to the back door, he found the key hidden by the boot pull.

“Wait,” Ronan warned. “Keep an ear out. If someone comes down the driveway, get in the basement. And turn off your phone, for God’s sake.”

“Right! Sure! Clever!”

He gallumphed into the house before Ronan, who looked over his shoulder before he locked the back door behind them. He heard Matthew’s feet head toward the sitting room, hesitate, and then pound percussively up the stairs to his bedroom. Matthew’s affection was a sloppy, demonstrative thing, and he had not seemed to know what to make of their now-motionless mother.

Ronan followed the hall to the sitting room more slowly, listening for the sounds of an approaching car between each footfall. The sitting room was dimmer and quieter than the hall, with no windows to let in the simmering afternoon or the trilling birds. The door to the basement was on the far wall, so he’d be able to intercept Matthew if anyone else arrived.

Ronan went directly to the desk against the wall, not looking at his mother. His father had called this desk his “office,” as if his work had required a legitimate form of paperwork. Ronan wondered if his mother had known what Niall Lynch did for a living. Surely she must have. She must have known she was a dream thing.

Suddenly, for the briefest of moments, panic forced itself up.

Am I a dream creature? Would I know?

Then he let reason tamp the thought down. All of the boys had baby books, with photos and hospital records. He had a blood type. He had been born, not conjured. He was real.

What is real?

Was something real once it had been taken from a dream? If so, was it real the moment he thought it?

He stole a glance over his shoulder at his mother. She didn’t seem particularly logical now, sitting motionless and uncaring for months and months. But he had never doubted her before her father’s death, even when she was the only parent for months at a time.

She’s nothing without Dad.

Declan was wrong. She existed apart from Niall Lynch, even if he was her sole creator.

Ronan turned back to the desk. Setting the puzzle box on it, he pulled open the main drawer. A copy of his father’s will sat on the very top of the contents, just as he remembered it.

Not bothering to reread the earlier clauses of the document— they would only anger him — he flipped directly to the last page. There, right before his father’s signature.

Niall Lynch was, at the time of so executing said Will, of sound mind, memory, and understanding and not under any restraint or in any respect incompetent to make a will. This Will stands as fact unless a newer document is created.

Signed this day: T’Libre vero-e ber nivo libre n’acrea.

Ronan squinted at the final phrase. Picking up the puzzle box, he turned it around until the side with the unknown language faced him. It was painstaking work to plug in each word. Though he couldn’t understand how the box managed it, it held the previously entered words in its workings in order to translate the grammar as well. That was how it had worked in the dream, after all.

If it worked in the dream, it worked in real life. He frowned at the translation it provided.

This Will stands as fact unless a newer document is created. Pressing his finger on the paper to keep his place, he compared it. Sure enough, the translated sentence was identical to the final sentence in English. But why would his father write the same thing in two different languages?

Hope — he hadn’t realized what the feeling was until it abandoned him — slowly trailed out of him. He’d been right about the language, but wrong that there was a secret message. Or if it was a secret message, he wasn’t clever enough to decode it.

Ronan shoved the drawer shut and folded the will into his back pocket to take with him. Just as he turned with the puzzle box, Matthew appeared in the doorway. He arrived with such speed that his shoulder crashed into the doorjamb.

“Nice,” Ronan said thinly.

Matthew waved a hand and panted, voice low, “I think someone’s here.”

They both looked behind them at the basement door.

Ronan asked, “What kind of car?”

Matthew shook his head wildly. “In the house.”

It was impossible, but the hair on Ronan’s neck crept up.

And then he heard it, distantly, from somewhere else in the house:


The night horror. Ronan didn’t think. He threw himself across the room and dragged Matthew inside.

There was a slow scrape from the direction of the kitchen.

“Basement?” gulped Matthew, shocked.

Ronan didn’t answer. He shoved closed the sitting room door and looked wildly around. “Chair!” he hissed at his younger brother. “Hurry!”

Matthew cast about before carrying a flimsy, armless chair over. Ronan tried to work out a door jam, but the old-fashioned door hook resisted his efforts. Even if it had been an ordinary knob, the chair wasn’t even tall enough to provide a whisper of leverage.


“Ronan?” Matthew whispered.

Ronan leapt over three old flour crocks to where a cedar chest was pressed against the wall. He tested the weight and then began to shove.

“Come on, help me,” he grunted. Matthew skidded over and threw his shoulder against it.

The claws tapped on the hallway floorboards. Scuffling.

The cedar chest scraped to a halt in front of the door. Ronan didn’t know how powerful the night horrors were. He’d never tested one like this.

Matthew looked up at Ronan, bewildered, as his older brother climbed on top of the cedar chest. Ronan stretched out an arm and hugged his brother’s curly head, once, hard. He pushed him away.

“Sit next to Mom,” he hissed. “It doesn’t want you. It’s me.”

“Ro —”

“— But if it gets past me, don’t wait. Just fight.”

Matthew retreated to where Aurora Lynch sat on her chair in the middle of the room, tranquil and motionless. Ronan saw him crouched there in the dim space, holding their mother’s hand.

He should have never brought him with.

The door bucked.

Matthew jerked in surprise. Aurora didn’t.

Ronan held the doorknob as it jiggled. There was a slow sound like water tapping out of a faucet.

The door jumped again.

Again Matthew started. But the cedar chest didn’t budge. It was heavy, and the night horror was not. Its strength was in those claws and that beak.

Three more times the door jerked on its hinges. Then there was a long, long pause.

It was possible it had given up.

But Ronan hadn’t considered what their next step would be. They couldn’t risk opening the door if the night horror was on the other side. Perhaps he should go out by himself — the bird men never wanted anyone else. It was only Ronan they despised. Everything in him was loath to leave his brother and mother behind, but they would both be safer without him.

Long minutes stretched out in silence. And then, somewhere in the house, a door shut.

Matthew and Ronan stared at each other. Something about the sound had been very unhurried and human — not at all what Ronan would have expected from the night horror.

Sure enough, ordinary footsteps began to creak down the hall. Possibilities unwound in Ronan’s mind, none of them good. There was no time to move the cedar chest without drawing attention to it. No wisdom to warning this newcomer of the nightmare, either — Ronan’s presence would only make it more dangerous.

“Hide,” Ronan ordered Matthew. His younger brother was frozen, so he grabbed his sleeve and tugged him away from their mother. There was just room for them to tuck themselves behind the rolled-up rugs in the corner of the room. It wouldn’t withstand careful study, but in the dimness, there was no reason why they’d be discovered.

Many minutes later, after much creaking of floorboards elsewhere in the house, someone gave the door an experimental shove. This time, it was quite clearly a someone rather than a something. There was an audible, human-sounding sigh on the other side, and the shuffling of feet on the floorboards was clearly produced by shoes.

Ronan held a finger to his lips.

There was only one more shove, and then the door cracked an inch. Another grunt, another shove, and the door came open far enough to admit a person.

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