Emily had spent the better part of the past three days trying to avoid Vivi, but it had been useless. She called, she emailed, she came over, and if that wasn’t bad enough—she had Emily’s mom working for her and trying to push her agenda even when she wasn’t around. Eventually, it became easier to just go along with whatever Vivi wanted at the moment than to continue trying to fight it. That’s how she ended up getting some of her freedom back, though, so it wasn’t all bad.
Ever since last autumn when she and Sarah had accidentally fallen into a huge sinkhole in one of the neighborhood streets and then gotten lost in the tunnels under the city for three days, Emily’s parents had kept tight control on where she could go, when she could go there, and who she could go with. She used to be able to ride her bike to the Capitol Building a couple of miles away, but now she wasn’t even allowed to go more than four blocks on her own. No going out after sunset, no walking near the steep stairs at the edge of her hilltop neighborhood, and especially no leaving the house without a mobile phone in her pocket.
The thing was, and of course Emily couldn’t tell her parents this, she was probably safer moving around the city on her own now than she had been before because she had a whole society of gnomes and trolls watching out for her.
When she and Sarah were in those tunnels under the streets, it was a huge beast with a snout and bristling hair like a boar—a troll named Lolfus—who had helped them. Lolfus had saved their lives, and in those short three days Emily had ended up returning the favor. Because of that, the underground trolls and the gnomes who lived and worked with them protected the girls even when they didn’t realize it. Emily knew how closely she was guarded, though, because she could always feel when the gnomes were in some nearby stone sidewalk or the boulders in a neighbor’s garden watching her. Even though it was creepy how they could move through stone and soil like it was air, the presence of the gnomes always felt reassuring to her.
Sarah had never mentioned anything about feeling watched or knowing that gnomes were looking out for them, so Emily decided maybe her own senses were colored a bit by whatever weirdness she had that Lolfus said made her something called a Seer. She had intuition that rivaled only her own mother’s for accuracy and would sometimes have dreams that gave her glimpses of the future, or at least the possible future. Emily believed that the dreams were meant to show her what could happen in the worst situations so she’d have an opportunity to do something about it before it was too late. It’s probably what had ultimately saved her life and that of Lolfus during that time underground.
She couldn’t tell her parents about anything that had happened with the trolls and gnomes. To keep their secret world protected and hidden, Emily and Sarah had to tell their parents that they fell in the sinkhole and wandered through the old Civil War tunnels until they found a door to a basement where a security guard had just happened to hear them knocking. It had seemed like a good story at the time, but she never had any idea that it would make her parents think she was some kind of bumbling doof who just fell into the street, got lost for days, and then couldn’t go anyplace without one of them watching her like she was a toddler. Too bad being a Seer hadn’t helped her out with that one.
Emily at least had the opportunity now to walk to and from Vivi’s house without accompaniment, could go with her to the recreation center, and, much to her delight, got the okay to ride her bike with Vivi to the open-air market a mile away on Saturday to check out the bazaar and some kind of yearly parade of pets.
She was actually looking forward to the weekend adventure, but to tolerate Vivi for a whole Saturday required a break from her in the days leading up to it. Sadly, no matter what excuse she tried to make, her mom just wouldn’t fall for it. She finally had to resort to begging.
“Mom, please can I go with you to run errands today? There’s only so much ‘fashion show’ I can take in one week. Vivi doesn’t want to do anything else!”
“I suppose that would be okay.” Her mother eyed her suspiciously. “Are you sure you’d rather hang out with me than your friend?”
“Sarah is my friend. Vivi is more like my boss,” she sighed. Her mom nodded in understanding, but said nothing of trying to help get her out of Vivi’s target range.
The day was just starting to take a turn from foggy and warm to oppressively humid and hot when Emily and her mother climbed into their gray station wagon. Mom started the car and lowered the windows to let the oven-like air out while waiting for the vents in the dash to blow out a relieving cool breeze. Only a few minutes later, their sweaty foreheads were dry as they turned onto a side street to find a spot in a parking garage near City Hall.
They’d barely made it around the corner when they came to a complete stop because of a traffic jam. “Who thought it would be a good idea to close the whole right lane the day before property taxes are due?” her mom complained.
As her mother navigated around the orange road cones and the men in reflective vests and hardhats, Emily took the opportunity to stare off through the passenger side car window. She was hoping to see an open manhole cover or a hole cut into the road to allow the workers access to whatever pipes and drains were underneath, something that would always remind her of the accidental adventure she’d had last fall, but instead she saw a group of workers with a small front-end loader scooping up huge pieces of busted white marble and concrete from the sidewalk. Yellow caution tape fluttered in the lazy breeze around the machine and its crew. All but the man driving the front-end loader were looking up at the monolith that was City Hall. Emily couldn’t help but follow the tilt of their heads and look up, too.
On the sides of the old skyscraper that housed the city government, she saw several dark rectangles that looked like the building was shedding scales like a serpent. It took her a moment to realize that these were the voids left from the slabs of marble that now lay on the sidewalk below. A sidewalk that was normally very busy.
Emily bolted upright in her seat fast enough for her seat belt to catch. “Mom, it’s not the road. Pieces of the building fell off!”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope,” Emily said, shaking her head but never taking her eyes from the scene as they rolled slowly past. “Not kidding.”
“Well, I certainly hope nobody was hurt. Those pieces of marble are enormous.”
The hair on the back of Emily’s neck began to tingle then as she watched the front loader scoop another slab of stone into its bucket and move to place it in the back of a waiting truck. Something just didn’t feel right.
That evening while her mom cooked dinner, Emily sank into the sofa and waited for the evening news to mention anything at all about the scene they’d witnesses earlier that day downtown. She’d already checked every local television station’s website and none had any updates other than the fact that one lane on the street was still closed while cleanup continued.
A news anchor transitioned from a story about recent robberies to what was being called the “freak accident” at the heart of the city. Emily sat forward and absorbed every word. Several pieces of marble had indeed fallen from the upper levels of City Hall, and it had done so during the morning rush when the sidewalk was full of people walking hurriedly to work. Miraculously, no one was hurt, but plenty of people had the fright of their lives because of the close call.
The uneasy feeling she had earlier returned as the station cut to footage from the scene. It was a live feed, but the mess looked only a little better than when Emily and her mom had driven by it hours before. The stone had hit the sidewalk with such force that it was cracked and gaping in places, and the damage looked like it was at least half of the block. Workers were using heavy equipment to pull up the damaged chunks and prepare the space for new cement.
The reporter on the scene thrust a microphone in the face of a crew foreman who announced that the heat must have been to blame for a failure in the adhesive that was used to apply the marble to the building in the 1960’s.
Hairs on her neck stood again and she had to remind herself that no one was hurt. It was just a weird thing that happened because of the heat. Everything would be fine.