Otherbound - Corinne Duyvis

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

n the world of the Dunelands, Amara was sleeping.

Striding through the Walgreens aisles, Nolan wished he could do the same—just curl up in bed, shut his eyes, and see nothing but the insides of his eyelids.

No: see nothing but the insides of Amara’s eyelids. He hadn’t seen his own in years.

If he hurried, he could buy the notebooks and get home before Amara woke up. He stopped by the office supplies, adjusted his backpack, and hunted the shelves for the right kind: hard-backed, easy to stack, and with thick enough paper that his ink wouldn’t bleed through when his pen paused at the same spot too long.

“Can I help you find anything?” A perky salesclerk appeared to his right.

Nolan offered a smile. Not quite his teacher-smile, but close—he didn’t visit stores often enough to have a sales-clerk-smile. All these fluorescent lights and shoppers made him uneasy. If something happened in Amara’s world, he had nowhere here to hide. At least his school had bathrooms. Sometimes he even got to use a teacher’s office. When the disabled kid said he felt a seizure coming, teachers listened, if only out of fear that Dad would threaten to sue them again.

“No, thank you.” Nolan drew back from the salesclerk. Another smile. He fingered the straps of his backpack. “I’m doing fine. But thank you.”

He turned back to the notebooks. Amara would give everything she owned for a single one of these. He ignored that thought—with Amara asleep, this was the one time of day he could focus on his own world. Once she woke, or when she started dreaming, all his inner peace and quiet would fade.

Maybe he should pick up some pens, as well. He couldn’t risk running out of ink.

The salesclerk crouched to rearrange some mixed-up kids’ sketchbooks. Nolan zeroed in on the shelves, on the recent pop cover blaring from the store’s speakers. Easier said than done. The music cut out every time he blinked, replaced with Amara’s slow breaths and the quiet rustling of sleepers in her inn room.

There. They’d moved his brand of notebooks to another spot. Nolan raised his—

—get up!—

—it was just a snatch of a voice. Male. At first, Nolan thought it was another shopper, maybe the radio.

It wasn’t. Amara had woken up. Nolan turned away from the salesclerk. He needed to shut his eyes without the clerk worrying, get a second’s glimpse of Amara’s world to see what was happening. The fluorescent glow of the Walgreens faded into nothing—

“—this?” It was Jorn’s voice, as Nolan knew it would be. Long fingers dug into Amara’s wrist. They were cold to her sleep-warm skin, and strong, squeezing too tightly.

Jorn yanked her out of the alcove bed. Her blanket slid off, caught by the hatch, and Amara stumbled on all fours onto the inn floor. Splinters stabbed her knees and feet.

Jorn shoved beige squares of paper at Amara. Scratches of ink covered every inch, forming slashes and loops and dots Amara recognized as letters. “I know these are yours,” Jorn growled. “You’re learning to write. What do you think you need that for?”

Amara didn’t answer. Even when she could, when he wasn’t dragging her by the arm like this, she never answered. Jorn would only get worse. She scrambled for balance, but her every muscle held stiff from fear and sleep.

Through the panic, Nolan tried to yank Amara’s arm free. It didn’t respond. Never did. He only got to watch and feel.

Cilla, Amara was thinking, maybe Cilla can stop him, she could tell him that teaching me to write was her idea, that it wasn’t just me—but Jorn wouldn’t care. He couldn’t punish Cilla. He could punish Amara—

“—Nolan?”

His eyes flew open at the feel of the salesclerk’s hand on his back. Her perfume wafted into his nose, sharp and Jélisse fruity—no, the Jélisse people were from Amara’s world, not here. The clerk’s perfume was just plain fruit. End of story. This world: perfume and office supplies, the inconstant whir of the AC. Forget the Dunelands. Forget the splintery wood of the inn floors, the musty smell of Amara’s mattress, the salt coming in from the dunes.

He must’ve been in Amara’s head for longer than a second. At least he’d stayed upright, though he’d slouched against the store’s racks and knocked a pack of notebooks to the floor.

“Are you all right?” The clerk squinted. Caked makeup around her eyes wrinkled into crow’s-feet. “You’re Nolan, aren’t you? Nolan Santiago? Should I call Dr. Campbell?”

“No. I think I’m all right.” He forced