Title: Wrong Side of the Rift
Author: Libby Heil
Genre: YA Fantasy
Grape can’t unlearn what living in Sortilege Falls has taught her. Magic is real. Vampires live among us. And there’s a portal in her back yard that leads to another world.
A few weeks ago, Grape lived a quiet life with her family in Watts Landing. Now, she’s stuck in Sortilege Falls, searching for a way to rescue her brother from the other side of the rift. She’s connected to Brad through dreams and what she sees terrifies her. Brad is being tortured into performing magic and, even worse, he’s being forced to torture others.
Grape hounds the magic folk in town, seeking a way through the rift. Her mother’s memory’s been stolen. Her new vampire friend refuses to help. Grape must do it all alone. What she uncovers is a whole host of secrets about the town and her own family. And she’s not the only one hunting for answers.
Time is running out for Brad, but it might be running out for Grape as well.
I was born during a blizzard. I’m told it was pretty cool but I have no memory of that time. I grew up in two tiny towns in Virginia and spent most of my twenties moving around the US. I’ve lived in Virginia, Florida, Missouri, and Washington. I’ve settled down, for now, in Raleigh, North Carolina.
I’m a writer and improviser. I studied acting in college but spent more time rewriting lines than memorizing them. My first play, Fourth Wall, was produced my junior year. Since then, I’ve written several full length plays, one acts and screenplays. I started writing fiction in my late twenties. Now, I focus mainly on novels but still dabble in theater.
Fun facts about me: There are none. I’m sorry to disappoint you so soon. But, I do love to read, write, and run. My hubby is my favorite person on earth. Dogs are my second favorite. All dogs. I love orange juice, especially when it’s mixed with club soda. Carbonation is better than alcohol. “Jaws” is my favorite movie.
Character Interview: The Dead Man
Pop: Tell us a bit about yourself:
The Dead Man: My name is Elder Garben, but you’ll only know me as the Dead Man. It’s a fair name. A friend killed me weeks ago. I allowed it, for the greater good. My people come from the Hinterlands of Starth. We’re peaceful and want to protect the world. That’s why I agreed to study magic in the first place. I prefer healing spells to damaging ones. My master and my fellow pupil took a turn for the worse. They helped a dictator rise to power. I’m trying to save our world but in order to do so, I have to do many many bad things.
Pop: Who are you in the story?
TDM: I’m Brad’s teacher. We kidnapped him from Earth to help us overthrow Starth’s dictator. Trust me, we were desperate. Now I have to teach him how to perform magic. The only problem is, we need him trained quickly and the best way to learn is to cast spells…on humans.
Pop: If you could change one thing about your life, what would you change?
TDM: I’d prefer to be alive again.
Pop: Who/What do you hate?
TDM: Who is easy, I hate the dictator of Starth. What is also easy – maggots.
Pop: Favorite food?
TDM: I can’t eat anymore. I used to be fond of apples. And breathing. Breathing was nice.
Pop: Do you think of yourself as a good guy or a bad guy?
TDM: I want to be a good guy. I started off as a good guy. I’ve compromised myself in order to do the right thing. Let’s just say that I have regrets.
Pop: What’s your biggest regret?
TDM: I regret becoming a wizard. I should’ve stayed in my village and been a farmer or a goat herder, anything but a damn wizard. There’s a reason the people of the Hinterlands don’t leave, we’ve figured out how to get along with one another. The rest of Starth is insane.
This scene takes place in a church parking lot just after a funeral. Grape has just gone to find out information about her brother’s whereabouts from one of her teachers and returns to find her mother flirting with a vampire:
“Oh, honey, I was wondering where you’d gotten off to,” her mother said as she wandered back, lost in thought.
“Yeah, I saw someone I knew…” Grape stopped moving, her feet locked into place. Her mind had been so preoccupied with Milly and Mrs. Humphries that she hadn’t seen who her mother was speaking with. The couple and their daughter had gone, leaving Liam in their place. He stood beside Dr. Merriweather, smiling in his all-black suit.
Her mother waved a hand toward Liam. “Have I ever introduced you to Mr. Sable? He’s a nurse at the hospital.”
“We’re acquainted,” Grape said, her voice devoid of good humor.
“How so?” her mother asked.
Why is Mom smiling so much?
“Liam knows Graeson,” Grape offered through her clenched jaw.
“Oh? Our neighbor? How do you know him?”
“Liam owns a club Graeson belongs to,” Grape said before Liam could answer.
“A club?” her mother asked, a bit of doubt creeping into her voice.
Liam smiled. It was hard to read his expression as his crystal blue eyes were hidden behind dark sunglasses. “I own a coffeehouse. It is very old and in desperate need of decoration. Mostly teenagers come. They play board games,” he said in his thick Eastern European-ish accent.
“And dress up,” Grape said, her heartbeat growing faster. She did not like the way Liam smiled at her mother or the way her mother looked at him.
“Yes.” Liam chuckled. “I believe it is called cos-play. The kids, they like to dress up as superheroes or villains. It is a common thing, and in a town this small they have no place to do it.”
“Maybe we’ll drop by and check it out one day,” her mother said. She touched Liam’s arm. “I’m sure it doesn’t need decorating as badly as you think.”
She touched Liam’s arm. Her mother touched Liam’s arm.
“Mom, we should probably get Mandy home,” Grape said, forcing herself to smile. Look normal, Grape, and get her the hell away from the vampire. She nodded toward Mandy, who stood beside Adam, arms crossed and tears dripping from her eyes.
“Oh, yes, you’re probably right,” her mother said, glancing at Grape before returning her attention to Liam. “I’ll see you at work, I guess.”
“I will be there.”
Grape watched as her mother walked toward Mandy. When she was out of ear-shot, Grape turned to Liam, fury in her belly. “What the hell was that?”
“What? I came looking for you, to see how you are. I ran into your mother. I know her from work.”
“You were flirting.”
“I was being nice.”
“Don’t. My mother is off limits.”
“Whatever you say, Grape Merriweather. I live to serve.”
“If that’s true, then take me to the Magic Lands.”
“There are very few who could open that rift, and those few all live in…the Magic Lands.”
“Then how did it open for Brad?”
“You would have to ask Brad.”
Grape’s hands balled up at her sides. She could feel a strange warmth growing through her body. “How the hell am I supposed to ask him anything if I can’t get to where he is?”
“Exactly. It is over. He is gone. I am very sorry, Grape Merriweather. It will be best for everyone if you let this go.”
“You are spending too much time in the woods.”
Grape balked. “What? Did my mother tell you that?”
“No.” Liam sniffed the air. “But you smell of dirt and trees with a hint of desperation.”
Grape opened her mouth to protest, but Liam inclined his head toward her mother, who stood staring at them, her arm wrapped around Mandy.
“Enjoy the ride home.”
Grape’s brother, Brad, was forced through a rift into a parallel universe where magic is the norm. Grape is still connected to him through dreams. Here, she encounters Brad in dream-form for the first time.
“Uuuuugh,” Brad moaned as he opened his eyes. The darkness had been a better, more forgiving place. Waking up only returned him to his new reality. The cave came into focus: the burnt ashes of last night’s fire, his own dirty backpack crammed with the objects of a former life, the dead man sitting patiently by the mouth of the cave—his mud-caked robe creased stiffly around his body, and the couple huddled in the shadows. Their whimpers grew louder as Brad sat up.
“Tomorrow, you will wake up earlier,” the dead man said in his dry voice.
Brad ignored the rotting corpse and turned his attention to the cowering couple. “It’s okay.” He raised his empty hands palm up to show that he bore them no ill will.
The woman buried her head in the man’s chest. They sat shaking into one another, two skeletons covered in loose skin and scars.
“Don’t bother with them. They probably don’t understand a word you’re saying.”
Brad reached for his glasses, forgetting that he no longer wore them. That was the first thing the dead man had done, poured a potion in his eyes and bound them for two days. Poor eyesight was a weakness they could ill afford, the dead man had told him. Blinded, they’d moved him to this cave, well away from the rift that could lead him home. Orzael, the cat man, had hunted as the dead man cared for Brad. But the dead man wasn’t the only one who stayed with him. Brad could feel someone in his mind, exploring his thoughts. Brad called him the Other. Occasionally, Brad had been able to pick up on a few thoughts of the Other as well.
“They’re frightened. And hurt,” Brad said, moving slowly toward the couple. “Those are new cuts on her arm.”
“Yes. Search your mind. You’ll remember them.”
Brad didn’t want to search his mind, didn’t want to remember what he’d done under the Other’s influence, but the images came back unbidden. His hands flicking by his sides, chanting in a language he didn’t understand, the slashes appearing across the woman’s arms. Red, bloody gashes cutting into the brown skin.
“You know the incantation now,” the dead man said. It was not a question.
Of course Brad knew. He knew every one they’d taught him. Even when it was the Other who took over his body and performed the spells, Brad knew them. He was always there with the Other, and not there. Alive, but not in control, and completely unable to forget what the Other had made him do.
“Here,” Brad said, handing a canteen of water to the man huddled in the darkness. He could just make out wild eyes staring at him. The man wore torn rags, revealing skin-sheathed bones beneath. How long had it been since these two had had enough to eat? Years, it looked like. The man’s skin was the color of milk chocolate, the parts that weren’t caked in dirt. Brad watched as the man scooted farther back, trying to press his body into the rock wall behind him. His grip on the woman grew tighter and she whimpered under his embrace.
“I gave them water this morning and some boiled roots to eat.”
Brad left the canteen at their feet and joined the dead man at the mouth of the cave. He stood, looking out at the hilly terrain. Rocks and dirt and clumps of yellowing grass were all he’d seen of this new land since his vision had returned. “Is Orzael out hunting?”
The dead man nodded, his head bowing to his chest and back, loose on his neck. “Your lessons will begin after breakfast.”
“No,” Brad said. “No more. Please.” His first few days’ lessons had been simple, learning to harness the magic within him. He’d been taught to turn plants different colors, to manipulate the light and shade to make a boulder appear to be a doll’s house. Brad had been excited in those days, if lonely. The Other had touched his memories, learned his mind, but hadn’t interfered. Then, one night, Orzael had returned with the couple. They’d already been through something terrible. The scars on their bodies and the way they shook and slumped as they moved told him that. And their eyes, awake and distant, as if they’d had lots of practice pretending they weren’t there at all. Brad had supposed that Orzael had found them foraging in some nearby woods, that he had brought them here for the dead man to help them. He had been very, very wrong.
“A gift from your grandfather,” the dead man had told him. It was the first time Brad had heard the Other named, though he’d already gleaned the information from the Other’s mind. My grandfather, Ravanuri.
“Who are they?”
“Who they are is none of your concern. They are for you to practice upon.”
“Practice healing?” Brad had asked, taking in their sunken cheeks and wild eyes. A blistering burn covered the woman’s cheek. Could he rid her of the pain or maybe even make the burn disappear completely? His mind reeled with possibilities, and he felt the Other’s presence. He reached out with his mind and inspected the Other’s thoughts. He found a spell that could at least rid a cut of infection; perhaps he could use it on her to see if the burn would heal more quickly.
“No,” the dead man had said, his milky-white eyes boring into Brad. “You are not a Healer, boy. Your task is far more important.”
“Than what? She needs our help.”
The dead man had taught him a spell, urged Brad to repeat it, but Brad had refused unless the dead man told him what the spell would do. The dead man struck him, even had Orzael slap him with his meaty paw, but Brad had resisted. Then the Other had taken over. White heat engulfed Brad’s body like flames. He felt his own mind receding, becoming a spectator as his arms flailed, his voice calling out the words the dead man had taught him. There was pain. And helplessness. And fear. Brad fought, but the Other was too strong. He watched, paralyzed, as the Other, his grandfather, a man named Ravanuri, used Brad’s body to perform the spell. The couple, crying in the middle of the cave, flew backward as if thrown by a strong wind. Brad could still hear the sick thud of their bodies hitting the hard rock wall.
He shook the memory from his mind. What was done was done. Now, he had to figure out a way to keep the couple from getting hurt anymore.
“I won’t do it,” he said.
The dead man turned his attention away from the landscape and focused solely on Brad. His milky-white eyes had taken some time to get used to, but Brad wasn’t sure if he would ever grow accustomed to the blue veins that snaked the man’s pale skin or the thin, bone-white lips that stretched in a straight line across his face. But worst of all were the dead man’s rotting teeth, small and brown. A cloud of sour odor surrounded him and grew worse when he spoke. “You don’t have a choice.”
Grape is growing frustrated in her search to find her brother. None of the magical creatures living in Sortilege Falls will help her. Though normally averse to exercise, Grape decides to go for a run to clear her head, and she thinks she spots an old friend/enemy.
Grape rounded the corner and jogged onto her block. Nearly home. Good. Three miles was way farther than she’d intended to run though her legs still felt good and she hadn’t gotten too sweaty yet. She hadn’t jogged since she’d tried out for a part in Aliens, a student production in Watts Landing. She’d gone for the Sigourney Weaver role but hadn’t been cast. It was the only production she’d been left out of in her home town. She hadn’t really wanted to run now, but she’d been too antsy after school to just sit in her room. She’d thought about hiking through the woods but she knew she’d just end up by the tree, wishing for Brad to be back.
Her house grew larger as she jogged closer. Good. She wanted a shower and maybe six plates of dinner. Grape compelled her legs to go faster. “Move it!” she commanded and sped up. Her mind flashed to running toward the portal in the woods, surrounded by gnomes. They were leading her to the tree, to the rift, and to Brad. But she’d been seconds too late, only able to jump half way through the portal before the cat man caught her and pulled her back to Sortilege Falls. If it hadn’t been for Liam, she’d be dead for sure. The cat man had found the idea of tearing her to shreds quite pleasurable.
Grape broke into a sprint. Thoughts of having to maybe outrun that furry bastard one day pushed her to the breaking point. Her ribs ached and a stitch ran through her side but still she pushed. What if she had to outrun him when she first landed in the Magic Lands? Maybe he would be standing guard on the other side of the rift? Her ribs burned but she didn’t stop. She was almost there.
Something small and red caught her eye. Grape glanced at her neighbor’s lawn and spotted a gnome sitting at the base of the mailbox.
“Auuuuuuugh!” she screamed as she leapt for the gnome. Clutching him in her arms, she tumbled through the thick grass. She rolled to a halt on her neighbor’s driveway, clumps of dirt and grass sticking to her sweaty legs.
“Take me to Brad!” she screamed at the gnome. She held him up to her face so she could look him in the eye. “Take me to…” her voice fell as she took in the painted beard and the unmoving eyes and cap. The gnome was a statue. An inanimate statue. Grape sat up, the gnome resting on her lap. Dammit.
The Models have just returned to school. Their otherworldly beauty is gone and so is their power over their fellow students. Some adjust well, some don’t. Grape does her best to protect her friends, but as you’ll see, it isn’t always easy.
Graeson hovered just outside the cafeteria doors. He smiled when he saw her approaching and gave a quick wave.
“I’m starving. Not literally, but you know what I mean,” Grape said, thinking of people who were actually starving. She’d forgotten to pack a lunch that morning or any snacks. Her tummy rumbled as she searched her purse for a few dollars.
“I might be able to spare some of my sandwich. I haven’t been super hungry lately,” Graeson offered.
“What’d you bring?”
“PB and J.”
“That sounds like heaven. I’ll take whatever you don’t finish, but no worries. I have money in here somewhere. And Bam! Found it.” Grape pulled a crumpled five dollar bill out of her bag and held in front of Graeson, savoring the small victory.
“Good. I kind of want all my sandwich.”
“Can I have a bite?” she asked, now that her mouth was watering for creamy peanut butter and sweet jelly.
Graeson made to answer, but his words were drowned out by a scream from down the hall.
“What the…” Grape said, peering at the backs of students as they huddled into a mass. They swarmed the middle of the hall, circling around a small space. “What’s going on?”
“Looks like a fight.” Graeson’s body tensed. “We should head into the cafeteria.
“Uh-huh,” Grape said, but she kept her gaze locked on the crowd.
“Get him, Reggie!” someone yelled.
A book bag flew into the air from the middle of the pack. Grape recognized the Gucci bag. It might not be too long before the twins’ aunt made Xavier sell his expensive accessories as well as their cars, but she hadn’t yet.
“Crap, come on,” Grape said, jogging toward the crowd. She had to push her way to the front. A hefty kid with huge, hulking shoulders held Xavier in a headlock. He punched the former Model in the face, and Grape saw blood spurt onto the floor.
“Hey!” she screamed, stepping forward, not sure what she could do. She tried to grab the guy’s arm to stop him from hitting Xavier again, but the kid swatted her away. She tripped backward and landed hard on her rear, sending a jolt of pain through her body.
Anger raged in her belly as her ribs throbbed. Grape struggled to her feet. The giant kid picked Xavier up and held him in the air as if the former Model weighed no more than a child. “Put him down,” she yelled, but her voice was drowned out by the crowd. They cheered to see Xavier body-slammed.
Grape heard a low growl and was surprised to find that it was coming from her. She took a step forward, her fists clenched and ready.
Two kids standing in the front row, red-faced from yelling, were shoved aside as Lonnie plowed through them. He landed two quick punches to the big kid’s mid-section. The kid dropped Xavier, who landed heavily on his side.
“Ugh,” Xavier moaned as Lonnie reached down to help him to his feet.
“Look out!” Grape yelled as the kid raised a ham-sized fist in the air. But he moved too slowly. Lonnie landed a kick to the giant’s crotch before the boy could throw his punch. The boy stood still for a moment, his hand still raised. His face slowly turned red as he folded over, falling hard to the ground. Xavier stood and thrust his boot into the kid’s stomach.
“You okay?” Lonnie asked his brother.
Xavier grabbed his book bag from the ground. He used the bottom of his T-shirt to wipe the blood from his nose. “I’m fine,” he grunted.
Graeson grabbed Grape’s arm and pulled her back into the crowd.
“Where were you?”
“Stuck in the back. We gotta go.”
Graeson pointed at the teachers rushing toward them. “We gotta go.”
Puschcart Prize Nomination for “Grow Your Own Dad” – Published by Mixer Publishing
Semi-finalist Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference – “STUFF”
Honorable Mention The Ohio State Newark New Play Contest – “The Last Day”