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The Clouded Sky

The Clouded Sky

Earth And Sky Trilogy Book 2
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
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The Game of Hope
Excerpt

I saw a man approaching. Cloaked and hooded, he moved with grace in the flickering candlelight.
My heart soared. Father!
He put out one hand, gloved in white leather. Hope was aglow all around him.
But then—as always—his hood fell back, and there was only a bloody stump where his head should have been.
I screamed, gasping for air, my heart pounding.

Mouse and Ém tried to calm me, but I only wept all the harder.
What did my father want?
Why was he haunting me?
Maîtresse rushed into our room in rumpled nightclothes, a shawl thrown haphazardly over her shoulders. “Such screaming, angel! You’ll terrify the Little Geniuses,” she said, putting down her candle. The shadows made her face look like that of a ghoul.
“I’m sorry,” I sobbed, slipping the miniature enamel portrait of my father from under my pillow. Father: so handsome, so elegant, to have died like that, the crowd cheering as his head fell into a basket of wood shavings.
“It’s that same night-fright she always has,” Mouse told her aunt, her voice tremulous.
“That scary dream of her father,” my cousin Ém said.
I looked into Maîtresse’s eyes. She was mistress of our boarding school, quite strict and demanding, yet we all loved her. “With his—” I winced, making a slashing motion across my neck.
“Come here, my sweets,” Maîtresse said, opening her arms.
Dragging their blankets, Ém and Mouse huddled in close. I could feel Mouse trembling. We called ourselves the Fearsome Threesome, but in the dead of night, Fearful Threesome might have been more apt.
“Repeat after me,” Maîtresse said, pulling the blankets snugly around us. She smelled deliciously of vanilla. “We are safe now.”
“We are safe now,” we whispered in unison.
Safe now, safe now, safe now.
But were we? It had been four years since the tyrant Robespierre had been executed, bringing an end to the Terror—but what if it were to happen again? Practically every girl in our school was of the nobility. What was to keep us from being hunted down, having our heads cut off?

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The Grey Sisters
Excerpt

It was nothing really. Her ears closed up and then she felt a discomforting pressure like a rough, heavy hand on the top of her head. She tried swallowing repeatedly to equalize the pressure in her ears and then rummaged in her bag for some gum. She didn’t find any. Instead, she discovered Floppy Monkey stuffed down at the bottom with a spare pair of thick woolen socks.
D must have snuck him into the bag and kept Floppy Giraffe with her. They were ancient stuffed toys knitted for them at birth by their Nonna. They normally lived on the bookshelf, but not when the girls were sick or one of them was traveling solo. Kat smiled to herself. He was almost as good as having her twin sister sitting right there beside her, and she wished she could cuddle with him unnoticed for a minute but that was unlikely. She touched her fingertip to her lips, pressed a kiss onto his poor worn head, and hid him away again.
It was a small plane, and the twenty-eight kids and two teachers filled it completely. That was half of the tenth grade; the other half were building houses for low-income families, but she’d done that in grade nine and quickly realized that she wasn’t compatible with power tools.
Next to her, Jonathan interrupted the contemplation of his heavy book and swept his gaze around the crowded airplane. “G-force,” he said, staring at her with his amber eyes. His heavy-framed glasses magnified them hugely. It was unsettling, like looking at a praying mantis close up. Funny how, even though he and his just-eleven-months-older sister, Spider, shared an undeniable family resemblance — same eyes and brows, same strong features and dark hair — Jonathan hadn’t grown into his face and body yet. It was as if he was wearing a skin suit a few sizes too big and it made him ungainly and awkward. Spider was the opposite of that, sure and graceful in her movements. “You know, gravity.”
Kat grunted. He was always saying weird things and then not explaining them. This time though, he continued. “But are we going up or down? Roller coaster?” He moved his hand in a wave motion and pursed his lips.
She had no answer, nor could she be sure he was even talking to her. More like at her. Spider always said Jonathan was on his own trip, and barely noticed other people. He even referred to them as humans for chrissakes, as if he were from outer space or something. And being so smart, he’d gone straight from eighth grade into tenth — their grade. It was something he never let any of them forget.
Still, they’d all grown up together on the same cul-de-sac and Kat got him, or at least more than most.
“Is your seat belt on?” he asked, poking at her upper arm.
She lifted the corner of her shirt to show him and returned her attention to the thick notebook open on her lap. It was her idea book, stuffed full of images and clippings. Everything and everyone she drew inspiration from. At the moment, she was totally in love with Mexican floral embroidery and Yayoi Kusama’s crazy polka dots. Sometimes when she was snuggled under the covers in her bed, she saw flowers and butterflies imprinted on everything. A glorious world of movement and color.
The plane dipped, propelling her stomach into her neck.
Two rows up, she could see the back of Henry Chen’s tousled head, John Brewster’s hand high-fiving him. The noise of chatter washed over her, transforming the cabin into an even smaller space.
Surely they must be getting close? She estimated they were somewhere near Spectacle Lakes. Her Nonna had told her that they were so blue they were like a slice of heaven.

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Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster
Excerpt

"Nan, tell us about the Sweep.”
It was dark in the coal bin, but Nan could tell it was Newt who was asking. Newt was newest to Crudd’s crew. He was barely six years old; he didn’t know all the rules. The first rule was you never asked another climber about his life Before.
There were five climbing boys in the coal bin: Newt, Whittles, Shilling-Tom, Roger, and Nan. Nan wasn’t a boy, but you’d never know that to look at her. She was as grimy as the rest of them. “Who told you about the Sweep?” Nan said. “Was it Roger?”
“Keep me out of it, Cinderella,” Roger muttered. He called Nan “Cinderella” because he thought it annoyed her. He was right.
“No one told me,” Newt said. “I dreamed about him. Last night I slept in your corner. I dreamed him and the girl were both singing to all the people. Only I woke up before I could hear the words.”
This was a thing that happened: the dreaming. Every so often one of the boys would say that he had dreamed about the Sweep. Nan couldn’t explain it. It seemed to happen whenever one of them fell asleep close to her. All she knew was that she didn’t like it. The Sweep was hers.
“It was about you, wasn’t it?” Newt whispered. “You’re the girl from my dream.”
“No,” Nan said. “I’m the girl who wants to go to sleep.” She’d spent fourteen hours climbing chimneys and knew there were more waiting for her tomorrow.
“You’re splashing in the wrong puddle, Newt,” said a raspy voice by the slat window. It was Whittles. He was only eight, but his voice sounded like an old man’s on account of breathing too much chimney soot. “Me and Shilling-Tom been dreaming about the girl and her Sweep for years. Not once have we gotten Nan to fess up that it’s her.”
“Aye,” said Shilling-Tom. He was Whittles’s best mate. “You might as well try to get a second helping from Trundle’s pot.” Trundle was the woman who cared for them. If you could call it that. “I won’t fess up because it’s nonsense,” Nan said. And it was nonsense. How could two people have the same dream?
“Is the Sweep a real person?” Newt asked. “He sounds lovely. Much nicer than Master Crudd.” He whispered this last bit. Just in case Crudd could hear him upstairs.
“Sweeps aren’t supposed to be lovely,” Nan said. “They’re grimy and tough as stone. Just like chimneys.” Maybe lovely was a fine thing to call a person in Newt’s old life, but he was a climber now. He wouldn’t last long if he kept using words like that.
She heard the boy move closer. “Please, Nan?” Her eyes had adjusted to the dim light, and she could see the outline of his head. With his curls shaved of, he really did look like a newt. They had named him well. “Just tell me if he’s real. I promise I won’t tell the others.”
“Don’t beg. A climber never begs.” That was another rule.
“Maybe I can sleep here next to you?” He clasped her arm. “Then I’ll dream about him all on my own?”
Nan knew what the boy was saying. He thought that some-how the dreams were coming from her, which was impossible. She pulled away. “Find your own corner.”
“Aw, go easy on the kid.” It was Whittles. “It’s only been a week since he . . . you know . . .” He didn’t say the rest. None of them knew what had happened to Newt’s family to have him end up here, but it had to have been bad. It was always bad.
“I’m not begging,” Newt said. “But it’s a true fact: I can’t sleep without a bedtime story. My mummy always says . . .” He corrected himself. “. . . always said . . .” His voice faltered. “It’s just I thought hearing a story about the Sweep might help me fall asleep.”
Nan remembered when she had felt the same way. That was a long time ago. That was Before.

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Broken Strings
Excerpt

The bell sounded. People jumped to their feet and gathered their things.
“And don’t forget there’s a unit test on Friday!” Mr. Herman, our math teacher, called out over the noise.
A collective groan rose up from the class. Some people started to argue for a postponement till Monday to give them more time to study. On any other day I would have stuck around and joined in the argument. But not today. Today I needed to get out of the classroom as fast as I could. I had something more important to think about than a math test. I threw my books into my bag and joined the crowd funneling out of the room. I’d gone only a few steps when I almost bumped into Natasha, my best friend. She flashed me a big smile. Smiling was the last thing on my mind.
“Are you ready, Shirli?” Natasha asked.
“No!”
“We don’t have to go,” she said. “We could go to the mall, get a soda instead, maybe buy something.”
“And just not look at the cast list?” I asked.
“It’ll still be there tomorrow.”
“Tash, I’ve waited all week. Do you really think I can wait another day?”
She flashed that smile again. “Patience is a virtue.”
“This coming from you, the least patient person I know?” I asked.
“Okay, you’re right, and I was just joking. Let’s go and look.”
The hallway was packed, and it felt as if we were salmon fighting our way upstream. We were the largest junior high in New Jersey, but the building didn’t seem big enough to hold all 1,600 of us who called this place our home away from home. We squirmed and shuffled our way forward.
“You know you have nothing to worry about,” Natasha said.
“Thanks. Neither do you.”
“Oh, I’m not worried, Shirli. You know that.”
Natasha and I had been friends, and pretty much inseparable, since third grade—like two peas in a pod, or peanut butter and jam. But there was a big difference between us. Natasha had never been in a school show before. In fact, she had only tried out this time because I’d practically dragged her to the auditions. It really didn’t matter to her whether she got a part or not. The problem was that for me it mattered way too much.
“Ms. Ramsey really likes you,” she pointed out. I knew she was trying to reassure me.
“She likes everybody,” I said.
“It’s more than that. I think she sees herself when she looks at you.”
I laughed. “Like she’s looking in some sort of fun-house mirror?”
Ms. Ramsey was our drama teacher. She was in her early thirties but looked a lot younger. She was blond and slim and moved in this slinky, smooth way like someone who’d had years of dance training. We couldn’t have been more different in appearance, but I guess I had the same way of moving, thanks to my own dance classes.
“I didn’t mean the way you two look,” Natasha continued. “Ms. Ramsey is so beautiful.”
“Gee, thanks.”
“Come on, you know what I mean. You’re really pretty, but not like her. You look more like me!”
Well, true, we did look a lot alike, even though my family was eastern European and Jewish, and Natasha’s was Portuguese and Catholic. But where the heck was this going?
“I mean she sees you as being talented like her.”
“Thanks, Tash.” Now that was a compliment.

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Aftermath
Excerpt

I will not say that the day Jesse Mandal asked me out was the best of my life. That’s silly, trite, foolish. But I was thirteen, which means I was all of those things. After school, I would have danced home, humming “Best Day Ever.” I’d have tweeted cryptic emojis of hearts and endless exclamation marks. I’d have lain in bed listening to All-Time Five sing about love, glorious love.
I was thirteen. I was that girl. But I didn’t dance home at the end of the day. I didn’t send any tweets. I never listened to ATF again. Because after that day, I’d never be that girl again.

The day started as my days had for the past year, no longer rising to my mom singing whatever song she can mangle my name into—“Good morning, Skye-shine,” or “The Skye will come up tomorrow.” I’d groan and bury my head under the pillow until she went off to do the same to my brother, Luka—who gets Suzanne Vega’s “Luka,” having been named after the song.
It was only when those wake-ups stopped that I realized how much I’d secretly loved them. Just like I’d loved her hot breakfasts, even when I complained that I could sleep in an extra twenty minutes if she’d let me grab a juice box and granola bar, like all my friends did.
That day I rise to the alarm moments before Luka raps on my door with, “Skye? You up?” He showers first—he’s sixteen and needs it more, and sometimes there’s no hot water anyway, if Mom forgot to pay the bill again. We both try to be quiet and not wake her. When Dad is away on business she’s rarely out of bed before noon, and in the past six months he’s been gone more than he’s been home.
I’m grabbing a juice box and bar when Luka says, “That is not a proper breakfast.”
“So you’ve said. Every morning.”
“That isn’t even real juice. You might as well drink soda.”
“Well, then . . .” I take a Coke from the fridge.
He plucks the can from my hand. “Sit. I’m making you scrambled eggs and toast.”
“You don’t have time.”
“I do. Isaac’s picking me up today. He’s borrowing his mom’s car and—”
A horn sounds outside. I arch my brows.
Luka’s cell pings with a text. He reads it and says, “Seriously?”
“That’s Isaac, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. He’s early. Something’s up. So important.” He rolls his eyes. “It always is with him.” He starts to type a response. “I’ll walk to school.”
“Then you’ll be late. And if we fight about it, we’ll wake Mom.”
He hesitates and then says, “Tomorrow, okay? I’ll cook for you tomorrow.”
“And I’ll drink real juice today. Just for you.”
He comes over and squeezes my shoulder. “You’re a good kid, Skye. Even when you try not to be.”
I stick out my tongue. He grins, grabs his backpack and jogs to the door.

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