We wait longer than we’ve come to expect for the portal to brighten again. Finally, we see Newspaper Man and Beach Guy at the hardware store, trying to find rope, and the owner points them to the back of the store. It’s a well-stocked store, but other than looking for rope, they’re not actually doing anything.

Then the scene flips to the Crazy Military Ice Cream Lady’s shop, where Elaine and the mean girls have claimed the best and biggest table in the shop. Crazy Military Ice Cream Lady watches suspiciously — after all, it’s still early enough that school hasn’t been dismissed — eavesdropping on their conversation. Only the newest girl looks nervous about being there. Crazy Military Ice Cream Lady’s expression darkens as she listens.

Best thing goth girl ever did! Get us the afternoon off as they decide to panic and go after her!
And do you believe it? Chelsea ran with her! Can you believe that? That the harmless bunny actually did something to get in trouble?
You know, she and the Tracee girl have been hanging out together lately. Don’t you think that’s more than a little creepy, or weird?
Weird. You don’t think? Oh, the Jerk is going to be pissed if she turns out to like girls.
Jeremy is mine. And if he wants to stay top dog in this town, he . . . will . . . not . . . touch . . . her.
Yeah, right, you believe that, girl.
Where did Taz run off to?
Where do you think? Straight for that boat and her so-called secret cove. I mean, isn’t it obvious? She’s got this major crush on that handsome author that’s in town.
No . . . you gotta be kidding! Our Ice Queen actually liking someone?
So, he’s hunky . . . he’s also ancient! Is it even legal? It’s definitely creepy.
Her and him or him and her?

"Um, I’m just going to be glad I never went to school with people like that," I say.

We flip back to Chelsea as she watches the water rush in and out below her, each time higher and higher. Melody’s almost-still form is starting to move back and forth with the incoming tide. Finally, though, a triangle of white slips around the outcroppings from the east: Teresa. It’s obvious that the young woman is an expert at sailing, as she’s already letting the air out of the sail as she sends the small craft down the ravine, and coming to a complete stop next to their fallen friend.

Chelsea can only watch as Teresa drags Melody into the boat’s small well. It’s barely big enough to hold both of them, especially when one of them is a limp black doll. Teresa shakes her head before tossing a black shoe, a sock, and what’s left her Melody’s coat onto the rocks. But then Teresa gives Chelsea a thumbs-up, before pushing her sailboat back out into deeper waters. Eventually, the white triangular sail vanishes into the Sound.

Next, we flip to the sheriff’s apartment where Mary Lee and Sunny are sitting on the sofa. Presumably, the sheriff is busy doing her job and dealing with the jurisdictional arguments between the research facility, the Army, and the school. She’ll have a headache by the time she gets home. The little girl is quiet and pensive, but surprisingly calm. After all, she’s just lost her best friend.

Mama . . . do you trust me?
Of course, I do, Sunny One.
Mister Teddy wants to tell you a riddle. Mister Teddy asks, how do you know if Melody is okay?
I’m not sure, Sunny.

It's six-year-old Sunny who replies, not the wise old bear.

The world hasn’t ended!

Then Sunny hugs her mother tightly.

Keep it a secret, okay?
Just between us, forever and ever, pinkie swear, honey.

"I’m not crying," I say as a tear rolls down my cheek.

"No, none of us are," Pablo agrees. "It’s just really dusty here all of a sudden."

Next, we flip to a newspaper laying on a table.

Long Island News
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Montaukettston — A sixteen-year-old girl has been declared dead this Friday, having fallen from the Montaukettston Rock while the tide was out. The county coroner made the determination after investigating the scene of the accident and DNA testing of the clothing found at the scene. The girl’s name has been withheld pending notification of the parents and remaining family.

Flip . . . this time to the Montaukettston Inn. Teresa and her mother are sitting together on the breakfast balcony.

Mother, remember when you said if I ever needed anything, I could come to you? I need something. And I need you not to ask why.

I smile. There are definitely benefits of being rich. As frugal and minimalistic as I am, having a sister who’s richer than even Tony Stark does come in handy sometimes.

There’s another flip, and we’re out at the Refuge for the Eastern Black Darter Butterfly, in a conference room.

So, where are your results?

There’s a very uncomfortable silence. Other than the person asking the question, everyone in the room is wearing a military uniform.

We were making measurable progress until we lost our asset.
You mean the Tracee girl, correct? I heard you were not able to keep her under control and she went and jumped off a cliff.
In so many words, sir.
So, get another.
It’s not that easy, sir. How do I explain this . . .?
Without resorting to quantum physics, incomprehensible equations, or other scientific gobbledygook, that’s how you explain it.
The girl was special. She was unique; we found her after years of searching. Imagine the universe like a long corridor lined with doors. Each of those doors is another world, one where we can potentially find knowledge and tools that we can take and use, far better than the ones we have now. But those doors? Each one of them is locked.
Melody Tracee was our key.

"She fucking was not your damn key," I say uselessly to the moron on the other side of this look-see window.

So now you don’t have your . . . key.
Correct, sir.
So, let me get this straight. We have sunk millions into this place, you have no results — well, none except for a very useful interrogation drug — one dead photographer, a town in turmoil, no reproducible evidence . . . That’s what you scientists need, reproducible results, correct? And now you tell me you can’t do anything now because . . . because, please correct me if I’m wrong . . . you no longer have your magical girl?

The silence is, as the saying goes, deafening.

I thought so. Close it down.

I breathe a sigh of relief. All we need to do here is make sure no one ever, ever, ever opens a portal to this place. Since my son and I are the only people who can open said portals, and I’ve memorized the gestalt of this particular world, I think we’ll be fine.

There’s one more flip. This one makes me smile. I recognize the beauty of Japan when I see it. I miss it. I think we’ll take our next vacation there. It’s a cloudy autumn day, and an elderly woman is walking up a path. As she passes beneath a torii gate onto the temple grounds, she notices a girl curled up at the shrine’s entrance. She makes her way over to the girl and taps the girl on the side.

Ikaga nasaimashita ka? Japanese: Can I help you?

The girl blinks, stirs, and looks up at the elderly woman. It’s Melody.

"Oh, wow," Pablo breathes.

"Couple of years have passed, I think."

She replies in broken Japanese that even I have trouble understanding. But she’s trying, and I’ll give her high marks for that.

Please . . . may I . . . stay . . . domo . . . my Japanese . . . not very good.
Is better my English?

The woman seems to recognize something in the girl before her. Interesting.

What is your name, ni-pah?

Melody slowly sits up, hugging herself. She holds her little pack close to her chest, but not before we can see her few meager belongings: a passport and cash card, likely Teresa’s doing, and a very out-of-date phone. I’d bet the only reason she keeps it is because she’s got photos on it that she doesn’t want to lose.


The old woman smiles.


The girl ducks her head and whispers, hardly audible.

I won’t bother. Just want say out of the rain.

The woman shakes her head.

No. Satoko-chan, she will set an extra plate. Stay here. With us, ni-pah?

The girl blinks several times, and the woman holds out her hand.

Come. You have run a very, very, very long distance, haven’t you? I am Furude Rika, that is my shrine.

The old woman’s eyes widen, but they dance with laughter.

Furude Rika and Frederika are different. Shame on you if you thought so. My age? I’ve gotten bored with it, so I’ve quit counting.

I narrow my eyes. "That’s part of a poem Mary Lee skipped over kind of fast."

"From the Bernkastel woman?"

I nod.

You stay. One condition. Don’t frighten the Oyashiro-sama. My best friend. Very shy, ni-pah, very scared of you.

I hear the chittering voice of a not-Shadowkin.

. . . no no no no . . . can’t stay . . . she will see, she will know . . . she will know who I am!

Impossibly, the old woman’s voice sounds just like the chittering not-Shadowkin. I’m going to guess it’s their form of telepathy, and that should be even more impossible than most other impossible things about this damn portal.

She needs our help. She is kin, ni-pah? I had you oh Shifter Between Worlds, when I would have given up. She is without her best friend. How can we, of all people, turn our back to her? She is alone.

She focuses again on Melody.

Safe here. Like to teach? School small. Teach children, teach me, English, ni-pah?

"Ha! She understands the difference between a lock and a key."

Rene chuckles. "Melody is the lock. You’re the key."

I nod. "Just so."

I’d have thought that would be the end, now that we know Melody is safe and getting her happy ending of being able to teach. But no . . . the scene flips once more. I smile so hard, my cheeks hurt.

Melody Chelsea Morgan, you get down outta that tree right now, young lady! Grandmother wants her lemonade, and you’re not going to find it up there with the butterflies.

The tall blonde walks down the drive from the mailbox carrying a simple blank postcard. It’s got little pin-prick holes, as though some little creature carried it unimaginable distances before it got anywhere near a post box. I know, perhaps simply through intuition, that she’s got a collection of them in a box. She pauses, holding up the card and waving it to her mother, who stands on the porch.

"Now, there’s a happy ending."

"Who the . . ."

"I keep forgetting you can't see the qi as well as I do." I shake my head. "That’s Sunny. And Mary Lee’s on the porch. The postcard’s from Melody." I tilt my head, studying the two of them. "Probably about twenty years have passed, give or take a few."

This time, when the scene fades, nothing takes its place . . . even after several minutes.

Next up: Epilogue

© Kelly Naylor