(Dreamhouse Kings #3)
Tuesday, 6:58 P.M.
Xander’s words struck David’s heart like a musket ball.
He reeled back, then grabbed the collar of his brother’s grimy Confederate coat. His eyes stung, whether from the tears squeezing around them or the sand whipping through the room, he didn’t know. He pulled his face to within inches of Xander’s.
“You . . . you found her?” he said. “Xander, you found Mom?”
He looked over Xander’s shoulder to the portal door, which had slammed shut as soon as Xander stumbled through. The two boys knelt in the center of the antechamber. Wind billowed their hair. It whooshed in under the door, pulling back what belonged to the Civil War world from which Xander had just stepped. The smell of smoke and gunpowder was so strong, David could taste it.
He shook Xander. “Where is she? Why didn’t you bring her?”
His heart was going crazy, like a ferret racing around inside his chest, more frantic than ever. Twelve-year-olds didn’t have heart attacks, did they?
Xander leaned back and sat on his heels. His bottom lip trembled, and his chest rose and fell as he tried to catch his breath. The wind plucked a leaf from his hair, whirled it through the air, then sucked it under the door.
“Xander!” David said. “Where’s Mom?”
Xander lowered his head. “I couldn’t . . .” he said. “I couldn’t get her. You gotta go over, Dae. You gotta bring her back!”
“Me?” A heavy weight pushed on David’s chest, smashing the ferret between sternum and spine. He rose, leaped for the door, and tugged on the locked handle.
He wore a gray hat (“It’s a kepi,” Dad would tell him) and jacket, like Xander’s blue ones. They had discovered that it took wearing or holding three items from the antechamber to unlock the portal door. He needed one more.
“Xander, you said found her! ”
Xander shook his head. “I think I saw her going into a tent, but it was at the other end of the camp. I couldn’t get to her.”
David’s mouth dropped open. “That’s not finding her! I thought I saw her, too, the other day in the World War II world. . .”
“Dae, listen.” Xander pushed himself up and gripped David’s shoulders. “She saw the message we left. She saw Bob.”
Bob was the cartoon face and family mascot since Dad was a kid, drawn on notes and birthday cards. When David and Xander had been in Ulysses S. Grant’s Union camp the night before, Xander had drawn it on a tent. It was their way of letting Mom know they were looking for her.
“She wrote back!” Xander said. “David, she’s there!”
“But . . .” David didn’t know if he wanted to scream or cry or punch his brother. “Why didn’t you go get her?”
“Something was happening on the battlefield. They were rounding up all the soldiers and herding us toward the front line. I tried to get to her, but they kept grabbing me, pushing me out of camp. When I broke away—“ Xander’s face became hard. “They called me a deserter. That quick, I was a deserter. One of them shot at me! I barely got back to the portal.” He shook his head. “You gotta go! Now! Before she’s gone, or the portal changes, or . . . I don’t know.”
Yes . . . no! David’s stomach hurt. His brain was throbbing against his skull. His broken arm started to ache again, and he rubbed the cast. “Xander, I can’t. They almost killed me yesterday.”
“That’s because you were a gray-coat.” Xander began taking off his blue jacket. “Wear this one.”
“Why can’t you? Just tell them—”
“I’ll never make it,” Xander said. “They’ll throw me in the stockade for deserting—if they don’t shoot me first.”
“They’ll do the same to me.” David hated how whiney it came out.
“You’re just a kid. They’ll see that.”
“I’m twelve, Xander. Only three years younger than you.”
“That’s the difference between fighting and not, Dae.” He held the jacket open. “I know it was really scary before, but this time you’ll be on the right side.”
David looked around the small room. He said, “Where’s the rifle you took when you went over? The Harper’s Ferry musket?”
His brother gazed at his empty hand. He scanned the floor. “I must have dropped it one of the times I fell. I was just trying to stay alive. I didn’t notice.” He shook the jacket. “Come on.”
David shrugged out of the gray jacket he was wearing. He tossed it onto the bench and reluctantly slipped into the one Xander held. He pulled the left side over his cast.
Xander buttoned it for him. He said, “The tent I saw her go into was near the back of the camp, on the other side from where I drew Bob.” He lifted the empty sleeve and let it flop down. He smiled. “Looks like you lost your arm in battle.”
“See? They’ll think I can fight, that I have fought.”
“I was just kidding.” He took the gray kepi off David’s head and replaced it with the blue one. Then he turned to the bench and hooks, looking for another item.
“Xander, listen,” David said. “You don’t know what’s been happening here. There are two cops downstairs.”
Xander froze in his reach for a canteen. “What?” His head pivoted toward the door opposite the portal, as though he could see through it into the hallway beyond, down the stairs, around the corner, and into the foyer. Or like he expected the cops to burst through. “What are they doing here?”
“They’re trying to get us out of the house. Taksidian’s with them.” Just thinking of the creepy guy who was responsible for his broken arm frightened David—but not as much as the thought of getting hauled away when they were so close to rescuing Mom. “Gimme that,” he said, waggling his fingers at the canteen.
Xander snatched it off the hook and looped the strap over David’s head. “Where’s Dad?”
“They put him in handcuffs. He told me to come get you. That’s why I was here when you came through.”
“And one more thing,” David said. He closed his eyes, feeling like the jacket had just gained twenty pounds. “Clayton, that kid who wanted to pound me at school? He came through the portal in the linen closet.” He opened one eye to see his brother’s shocked expression.
“How long was I gone?” Xander said. “Where is he now?”
“I pushed him back in. He returned to the school, but he might . . . come back.”
“Great.” Xander glanced over his shoulder at the hallway door again, then back at David. “Anything else I should know?”
David shook his head. “I guess if I die, I won’t have to go to school tomorrow.” He smiled weakly.
The school year—seventh grade for David, tenth for Xander—had started just yesterday: two days of classes. Mom had been kidnapped the day before that. David couldn’t believe they’d even gone to school under the circumstances, but Dad, who was the new principal, had insisted they keep up normal appearances so they wouldn’t attract suspicion.
Lot of good it did, David thought, thinking of the cops downstairs.
“I don’t know,” Xander said. “Dad would probably figure out a way to get your body there.”
David’s expression remained grim.
“You’ll be fine.”
“Don’t get taken away,” David told his brother. “Don’t leave with me over there. Don’t leave me alone in this house when I come back. Don’t—“
Xander touched his fingers to David’s lips. “I won’t leave,” he said. “I’ll go see what’s happening downstairs, but I won’t leave. No way, no how. Okay? Besides—“ He smiled, but David saw how hard it was for him to do it. “You’ll have Mom with you when you come back. Right?”
It was David’s turn to smile, and he found it wasn’t so hard to do. “Yeah.” He turned, took a deep breath, and opened the portal door.