The hourglass door, p.1
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       The Hourglass Door, p.1

           Lisa Mangum
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The Hourglass Door


  Quotation on pages 63–64: From The Aeneid

  by Virgil, translated by Robert Fitzgerald, translation copyright © 1980, 1982, 1983 by Robert Fitzgerald. Used by permission of Random House, Inc.

  Quotations on pages 240–41, 262, and 263: From The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Inferno

  by Allen Mandelbaum, translation copyright © 1980 by Allen Mandelbaum. Used by permission of Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

  Quotation on page 394: From The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Paradiso

  by Allen Mandelbaum, translation copyright © 1984 by Allen Mandelbaum. Used by permission of Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

  © 2009 Lisa K. Mangum

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher, Shadow Mountain¨. The views expressed herein are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of Shadow Mountain.

  All characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Mangum, Lisa.

  The hourglass door / Lisa Mangum.

  p. cm.

  Summary: Dante, a prisoner sent from fifteenth-century Italy into the

  present time as punishment, meets and falls in love with Abby, a high

  school senior who may be the only one who can save him.

  ISBN 978-1-60641-093-6 (hardbound : alk. paper)

  eISBN 1-60641-608-1 (eletronic)

  [1. Time travel—Fiction. 2. High schools—Fiction.

  3. Schools—Fiction. 4. Interpersonal relations—Fiction. 5. Good and

  evil—Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.M31266537Ho 2009

  [Fic]—dc22 2008053555

  Printed in the United States of America

  Worzalla Publishing Co., Stevens Point, WI

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  For Tracy

  Presto— track 3

  Table of Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Acknowledgments

  Prologue

  It is the counting that saves him.

  The darkness has robbed him of nearly all his senses; he fears his sanity is next. The fear is a suffocating weight on his chest, turning his limbs to lead, making his once-nimble fingers clumsy and useless. No, not entirely useless. He can still use them to count.

  In the darkness, the space between the sounds he hears is filled with potential, pregnant with hidden life. He willingly chooses to live in this non-space if it will keep his sanity intact.

  So he counts the drops of water falling from the rotting ceiling overhead . . . the number of times the prisoner next to him proclaims his innocence . . . the crumbs of the crust that the guards toss at him as if he were an animal . . . the steps it takes to circumvent his cramped cell.

  He counts the days he lived before coming to this place—how many days in seventeen years? How many years in a lifetime?

  It’s hardest to keep track of the time. Without light, without variation, all the days blend into one seamless stretch of now. He longs for the uncertainty of the future.

  ~

  The light hurts his eyes. The unexpected bustling of activity beyond the bars rattles through his ears like chains. He dares a glance, wills his eyes to focus.

  Two guards run past his cell. One more trails behind them, a blanket clutched in his fist.

  He knows he shouldn’t be interested, shouldn’t be curious. It will only make things worse, distract him from his counting. But he can’t help himself. He stands on his toes, pressing his face to the cold bars.

  And then he sees her. All the numbers run out of his head like sand through a sieve. All the images in his eyes fade until he can see only her. His heart beats in uncountable rhythms.

  She is what he imagines the angels would envy. Her heart-shaped face frames brown eyes soft as newly turned earth, red lips full as blushing rosebuds, pale cheeks smooth as unmarked vellum. Dark brown curls tumble over her shoulders.

  She stands on her toes too, her hand holding onto the door frame for balance. She scans the room, looking but not seeing. Her eyes touch his for a moment, move on, then return. Her rosebud lips bloom into a smile, and a wave of warmth rushes through him. He feels as though he is standing on the summer sun.

  The guards stop her in the open doorway, wrap her in a blanket, rush her out of the dungeon. But not before the sight of her is burned into his mind. Hope lies thick on his tongue. He swallows it down, where it lodges, hard as a diamond, behind his heart. Against all reason, he holds onto that hope.

  It is enough to keep the darkness at bay.

  For a time.

  ~

  When they come for him, he counts the keys on their rings, the stars on their collars. These are the court’s men.

  Is it time for his trial so soon?

  He counts the number of steps to the courtroom. The number of people clustered in small groups, whispering. Fewer than he thought there would be.

  For a moment he dares to hope they will let him go.

  He counts the seconds it takes for that hope to die. More than there should be.

  The guards throw him to his knees. The judge speaks a string of words—too fast to count. Only one matters anyway. One word that changes him forever.

  Guilty.

  He shakes his head. How is it possible? There’s been a mistake of some kind. Don’t they know who he is?

  The judge steps aside, gesturing to a black doorway that stands in the center of the room—tall as a man, but narrow, thin; it is a coffin, an open grave.

  Crushing fear robs him of his sight, his breath.

  Oh, yes. They know exactly who he is.

  The guards strip off his shirt. It is only a rag; he is glad to be rid of it.

  They spread his arms wide, bending them back as though they are angel wings, primed for flight. But there is no escape. The guards pull him down, strap him down.

  He can smell burning iron in the air. He can feel burning iron on his skin. He screams as fire rings his wrists, manacling him with pain.

  He counts his screams, distantly, dispassionately. Fewer than he thought there would be.

  It seems to take a long time to wrap the scorching, burning bands on his skin. Longer still for the fine detail work to be placed delicately on his inner wrists.

  He counts the number of times he is grateful they didn’t break his fingers or his hands instead.

  ~

  The fear is gone. Even the pain is gone, eventually. Numbness sets in like frost, like ice, moving through him like a glacier. Burning like banked coals.

  Underneath his skin, he knows he will survive this. Vows to survive this.

  They stand him on shaking legs, unsteady feet. They stand him before the door, a freestanding frame, unattached to anything. It’s impossible to think
it could lead anywhere, but he knows better. He knows very well what waits behind that door.

  The judge speaks a few more words—meaningless gibberish.

  His whole world has narrowed in focus to the black slab before him. There is no handle, no window. It is a door designed to swallow, to consume, to leave nothing behind. He notices that the polished brass hinges open only one way—in. He wonders why he notes this detail. It’s not as though anyone will ever come out.

  Now that he is closer, he can see the faint etchings—black on black—that cover the once-smooth surface: lines and angles folding in on themselves in a complicated labyrinth, whirling galaxies, a rising tide, a spiral shell, circles and crescents and stars. In the center of the mosaic is an hourglass, the top bulb filled with individual grains of sand just beginning to slide through the narrow neck.

  He can almost hear the thrumming hum of trapped music straining to break free. Almost. Almost. The potential is suffocating him. The beauty brings tears to his eyes. Almost.

  He reminds himself he must pay tribute to the creator of this door, this work of art, this machine that will transform him, transport him, translate him.

  The judge asks him if he has any last words.

  He thinks about that phrase for a long time. Last words. Does he even know any words that will last? Beyond time? Beyond that door?

  He thinks about the last words he said to his mother. His brother. His lover. Distantly amused that they ended up all being the same words. He can still taste them in his mouth—sweet and exotic. He will not say them, he vows. Not here. Not in front of these men and this towering black door. Maybe not ever again.

  But he has other, equally potent, equally powerful last words:

  “Go to hell.”

  The men laugh. Even the judge hides a smile. “You first,” he says as the door swings open, a silent yawning, a gaping hole. A hole cut into the very fabric of existence. A hole, waiting to be filled.

  He takes a step forward into the darkness . . . and counts.

  One.

  He keeps counting. Twenty-two. Twenty-three. The door closes behind him. Eighty-four. Eighty-five. The music fades. One hundred six. One hundred seven. Everything fades. Two hundred forty-eight. Two hundred forty-nine.

  He keeps counting until he reaches the other door. The matching freestanding door with hinges that only swing out. The second door opens and he sees what waits for him beyond.

  The door closes behind him, vanishing into the void. He is alone in a barren, flat wasteland with only the scorch marks of guilt on his wrists and the sharp diamond of hope in his heart.

  There is nothing left to do but wait.

  And count.

  Chapter

  1

  “Is this a joke?”

  I looked up from painting my toenails lime green to see my best friend Valerie stretched out across my bed, holding a piece of paper by its corner.

  She sat up, crossed her legs, and read from the sheet in her hand. “‘What’s your favorite scent?’ ‘What would you do with a million dollars?’ ‘How would you achieve world peace?’” She hooked a strand of platinum-blonde hair behind her ear. “What kind of crazy college application is this?”

  I screwed the nail-polish brush back into the bottle and blew lightly on my toes. I hoped Valerie couldn’t see my hand shaking. “Mr. Bastian gave it to me. He thought I might be interested. I just took it to be polite.”

  “Mr. Bastian? The school counselor? He’s a certifiable idiot; you know that, right? I mean, I once saw him stick a pencil up his nose. And it was one of those pencils with the little naked trolls with the wild pink hair stuck to the end. It was, seriously, ten different kinds of disgusting.”

  I shook my head. Leave it to Valerie to obsess about the details. “It’s for Emery College.” I tried to keep my voice casual, but my words sounded strained to my ears, forced through a suddenly tight throat.

  “Where’s that?”

  I shrugged, not meeting Valerie’s eye. I wasn’t sure I was ready to have this conversation yet; I knew I wasn’t ready to have it with Valerie. “Back east somewhere, I think.”

  Silence from the other side of the room.

  “Back. East. Somewhere,” Valerie repeated. “You. Think?” She shook her head. “Now I know this is a joke. What about our plans to go to State together and major in English and room together and have matching boxer terriers that we’d walk in the park every Saturday in order to meet guys and . . . and . . . and everything?”

  I smiled weakly.

  “No.” Valerie shook her head and scrambled the length of my bed, clutching at the brass foot rail, the application for Emery College crumpled in her hand. “We had it all planned out. You can’t do this to me. You can’t go away to college back east somewhere without me!”

  “Stop being so histrionic—”

  “Don’t use your AP English vocabulary words on me, Abby, I know what they mean better than you do.”

  “Val, calm down. It’s just an application. I’m still planning on going to State with my very best friend in the whole world.”

  Valerie collapsed facedown in a heap, sighing with relief.

  “It’s true. I can’t wait to room with Natalie at State,” I said, laughing.

  “I hate you so much it hurts,” Valerie said, her voice muffled by my plaid comforter.

  “I love you too,” I replied.

  Valerie sat up and threw a pillow at my head.

  “Hey, careful—you’ll smudge my toes.”

  “Green?” Valerie rolled onto her back and stretched her arms over the edge of my bed. “Why bother? It’s too cold to wear sandals. No one will even see your toes.”

  I shrugged, grateful for the change in topic. “How long have we known each other?”

  “Like, since forever.”

  “Like, since third grade.”

  “Whatever. It feels like forever.”

  I snatched the pillow off the floor and tossed it at Valerie’s head. “Tomorrow’s a big day. I want to look my best.”

  Valerie picked up the bottle of nail polish. “Gangrene? Someone actually named a shade of green nail polish gangrene? What’s yellow called—jaundice?”

  I snatched the bottle out of her hands. “It was on sale,” I said a little stiffly.

  “Ab, honestly, you shouldn’t buy stuff like this just ’cause it’s on sale.” She examined my foot with a critical eye. “At least I know what to get you for your birthday—a pedicure.”

  “Better hurry, then. Only one more shopping day left,” I reminded her.

  Valerie dropped my foot. “How long have we known each other?” she mimicked my voice.

  “Like, since forever,” I mimicked back, my eyes wide and innocent.

  A knock on my door interrupted Valerie’s retort. My mom poked her head into my room. “Abby, time for dinner. Hi, Valerie. You’re welcome to join us if you’d like. Nothing fancy, it’s just spaghetti and salad.”

  “Thanks, Mrs. Edmunds, but I should probably be heading home. Dad’s trying a new recipe for his cookbook tonight and I promised I’d be his guinea pig.”

  “Mmmm, sounds exciting,” Mom said, swinging the door wide. “C’mon, kiddos, time to move.”

  As Valerie gathered up her backpack and books, I slipped the crumpled Emery application into my desk drawer.

  “See you tomorrow, Abby.” Valerie pulled open the front door and skipped down the steps. “Good luck!” She waved from her car before peeling out of the driveway. Her cherry-red Lexus was a blur as she took the corner at full speed.

  “She’ll get herself killed one of these days,” I said to my mom as I closed the front door.

  “What’s tomorrow?” Mom asked, following me into the dining room.

  “Oh, nothing,” I said, feeling myself blush a little. “It’s just that Dave has a meeting with the district superintendent about some budget thing. He’ll be late to rehearsal and he asked me to be in charge until he can get there.” I sat down a
t the table and fussed with my silverware.

  Hannah was already sitting at the dining-room table, her nose buried in a book.

  Dad set the salad bowl down beside his plate. “Did I just hear you’re going to be running the show tomorrow?”

  “I guess so. I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to do. I hope Dave’s not too late from his meeting.”

  “Shouldn’t you call him ‘Mr. Thompson’ instead of ‘Dave’? He is your drama teacher, after all,” Hannah piped up.

  Hannah was the stuffiest eleven-year-old I’d ever known. I blamed it on her recent obsession with Jane Austen novels.

  I shrugged. “Everyone calls him Dave. He doesn’t seem to mind.”

  “Still,” Mom said, “maybe Hannah has a point—”

  “So about Friday,” I said, raising my voice just a little. It was a terrible segue and everyone knew it—Hannah shot me daggers from behind her book—but I was already nervous enough just thinking about filling in as assistant director for the school play that I really didn’t want to spend the entire dinner discussing it or my drama teacher. Besides, I had something more important I wanted to talk about. “I was thinking—”

  “Not to worry, sweetie,” Mom said, passing the bowl of noodles to me. “Cindy called this morning to reserve four lanes at the bowling alley for Friday at five o’clock. Everything’s all set.”

  My heart sank. “Oh. Thanks.”

  “Something wrong, Abs?” Dad asked.

  “Well. It’s just . . . I was thinking, maybe . . . we could skip the bowling this year?” I hated that my voice cracked, turning what should have been a declarative statement into a weak question.

  “What?” Mom set down her silverware. “Why? I mean, Abby, sweetie, we’ve gone bowling for your birthday since you were four years old. I thought you liked it. Why would you want to change your plans?”

  Maybe because I’m turning seventeen and I’ve gone bowling for my birthday since I was four years old, I thought. I twirled spaghetti noodles into a knot around my fork.

  “What about Jason?” Mom asked. “It’s his birthday too, you know.”

 
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