Down a Lost Road - By J. Leigh Bralick Page 0,1

deep breaths to steady myself.

The terror slowly began to fade. Then a little surge of resentment crept into its place. I couldn’t imagine Mr. Dansy had ever had a moment’s excitement in his life, so who gave him the right to freak me out like that? Besides, why was I always the one who got sent to pick up groceries when the car was conveniently missing? I was just starting to enjoy my summer break. Weirdness and overpowering irrational fears were not my idea of a fun vacation.

The tip of my finger brushed the rough cold coin again, and the strange feeling stirred in my stomach.

“Ugh,” I muttered, shuddering, as I took the groceries to the kitchen. “What’s with that?”

It came out louder than I meant, but Mom was right there at the counter and apparently heard my little rant.

“What’s wrong?”

Why did everyone always have to know my business? I scrambled to think of a reasonable answer.

“Maggie. She’s always yelling at me.” Mom’s brows arched, and I only glowered more. “Here’s your stuff.”

“Merelin…”

“What?” I snapped.

That made me irked at myself on top of it all. Why was I being so nasty? I didn’t usually cop that kind of attitude with my mom.

“I’m sorry. I’m fine. Just tired.”

Mom watched me quietly, the way she did when she knew something was wrong but didn’t want to pry. I tried a smile and beat a hasty retreat. Another minute and she’d be asking for her change, but I wasn’t about to hand over the coins. I ran upstairs to my bedroom and closed the door behind me – gently so Maggie wouldn’t yell at me again.

My hand still clenched in a fist, damp with sweat and scored with lines from the coins. I could smell them too, that cloying metallic scent that made my stomach quaver. My heart raced, nervous and excited at the same time. Part of my brain – the part that was growing up way too fast – insisted I was all worked up for nothing, and being childish besides, but I tuned out. I smoothed the rumpled green sheet on my old iron-framed bed, sat down ceremoniously, and tipped the coins out of my hand.

Just then, somewhere in the corner of my consciousness I thought I heard a door slam, footsteps in the hall. I jumped and clapped a hand over the coins. But the sound had gone…if it had ever been there at all.

Great. Now I was hearing things, too.

I turned back to the neat pile of coins in front of me, and sighed, feeling utterly ridiculous. That was it. A pile of plain old coins. The quarter, so tarnished you could hardly see George’s head, two dimes, and four beat up pennies. And I’d run all the way home in a panic over that? I frowned. No way. I couldn’t have mistaken the rough, gouged-out face of the one coin, so burning cold.

Maybe I had dropped it. But I could have sworn I’d been holding them too tightly. I’m sure I would have noticed if one had fallen out. At least, if I had dropped it, it would have to be somewhere in the house, because I’d felt it when I was standing by the door.

I slid off the bed, sweeping the coins into my hand and dumping them into an old tin on my dresser. A branch scraped my window with a fingernails-on-chalkboard kind of sound just as I turned to leave the room. It made me jump, again, and I’m not usually a jumpy kind of person. I stared a good two minutes at the window until I’d convinced myself it really was a tree branch, then I darted out of my room, clattered back down the stairs, and cleared the last three in one leap.

“Merry!”

Maggie and Tony, this time. They only called me Merry when they were really mad at me for something. I poked my head into the family room.

“What?”

“Do you really have to sound like a herd of elephants when you come downstairs?” Tony asked, not even glancing up from his physics textbook. He never stopped studying.

“At least I’m not a barnacle.”

Maggie peered at me over her magazine. “Your point?”

I shook my head and withdrew. Sometimes it felt like my twin brother Damian and I were the only sane ones in the family. I wandered into the kitchen and felt around in the empty grocery sack. Nothing. Quiet as I tried to be, Mom still heard me rummaging around and turned to

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