Emily woke up suddenly when she hit her bedroom floor. The dream had left her dripping with sweat, twisted and tangled in her sheets, and had apparently also made her thrash and fight until she tumbled from her bed with a thud.
Once she realized where she was and that she was safe, the nightmare from which she’d just escaped settled back in her brain like the fog she’d seen the morning before. Along with that brainfog came the dread that the dream might be one of those kinds of dreams. The kind that she’d had before she fell into the sinkhole and learned about the trolls and gnomes. The kind that Lolfus had told her were some sort of psychic visions or whatever.
It was the last thing she wanted right now. No weird dream or prophetic vision was going to make her already-bad summer even worse.
Emily unwrapped the sheets from her legs and managed to climb back into bed. She was still clammy from the nightmare, so she flipped her pillow to the cool, dry side and left the covers off of her body until the feeling started to pass. She was determined to sleep if it took until dawn to make that happen. She didn’t have anywhere to be on Friday and she hoped to stay in bed as late as her mom would let her. Maybe she could pretend to be sick? If she was lucky, being “sick” might also help with the issue of spending Saturday with Vivi. It was a good plan, one that she intended to stick to, and one that she wished would solve her problem with her bossy Summer Bestie for months instead of just days.
She lay there in her dark bedroom for what felt like hours while her brain swam and swirled with all kinds of strange, random thoughts. Could she just tell Vivi that she didn’t want to spend time with her? She knew she could, but she also felt a little sorry for her and didn’t want to hurt her feelings like that. Should she come up with some kind of project or plan that might keep Vivi occupied or distracted so that all of her attention wasn’t spent on coming up with ways she could spend time with Emily? That was a pretty good solution.
What about the trolls? How were they all getting on now that Lolfus was in charge instead of his cruel and selfish brother? Emily found it odd that she hadn’t wondered about that sooner. It had been almost nine months since she’d last heard from them. Maybe that was how it was supposed to be.
That thought made her a little sad, so she tried to turn her focus to something else, something boring enough that she’d fall asleep without even noticing. Her brain drifted to Algebra, then to Earth Science, and finally to World History. Unfortunately, World History reminded her of the trolls yet again and the story that Lolfus had told her about the way they accompanied the German immigrants to North America. At some point she must have drifted off because a tapping at her door stirred her and she saw daylight forcing its way through the blinds at her windows.
“You awake in there, Emily?” her dad called out. “It’s almost ten o’clock. Don’t you think you’d better get moving and have some breakfast?”
“I’m up. I’ll be down in a minute,” she mumbled.
She sat up in bed and tried to tame her crazy hair enough to pass for acceptable. The dream from the night before was still firmly cemented in her mind, but she had at least managed to get enough sleep afterward that she didn’t completely feel like the walking dead—only mostly like it.
After dragging herself to the bathroom to brush her teeth, she shambled downstairs to the kitchen and poured herself a bowl of Tastee-O’s. She could hear her father clicking away at his computer keyboard down the hall and remembered that it was Friday. He worked from home on Friday every week and her mother volunteered at the neighborhood library doing story time for little kids or crafts with the older kids. During past summers, Friday was the day that Emily and Sarah would camp out in the living room and watch DVDs with endless popcorn with her dad walking through every now and then to make a silly joke or a goofy comment on the movie.
Emily sighed and wondered what Sarah was doing at her grandmother’s house at that moment. Was she there wondering what Emily was doing here? Or was she milking cows or feeding chickens or whatever you do with your grandma in the country and having a great time without her?
With her mood already soured because of the weird dream she’d had last night, the melancholy of missing Sarah threatened to immobilize her completely. Emily decided that she should probably spend some time outside in the sunshine before she turned into a gloomy zombie that nobody wanted to be around.
She racked her dirty breakfast dishes in the dishwasher and called down the hallway to her father. “Dad, I’ll be in the back yard for a bit.”
“Okay, but don’t go anywhere without checking with me first.” Going missing for a couple of days really made parents hover. Hers were getting a little better, but not much.
The heat of the day had already taken hold and the humidity practically smacked into her as she stepped out the back door. Squinting into the sunlight, Emily decided to grab a lawn chair from the shed and relax in a shady spot.
The inside of the shed smelled dry and hot like an attic. She was stepping between the lawnmower and the family’s bikes to get to the folded chairs hanging on the back wall when she noticed a folded piece of paper tied to her handlebars with old cotton string. It had been at least a month since she’d been in here, so how long the paper had been there and who left it were mysteries. She slid the paper from under the string and opened it up to find it was surprisingly thick and heavy. Scrawled across the page was elegant, old-fashioned cursive writing with little drops and flicks of ink here and there. Though the writing looked fluid and ornate, the words were very brief and businesslike:
There is a problem that I fear we may need your help in solving. We should talk in person. Please send a message via Gnome to arrange a time and place.
Her stomach knotted and, despite the heat, a chill crept over her and the hairs on her neck stood at attention once again. She had no way of knowing how long this message had been here, but her intuition told her that it had not been waiting for her more than a day or two. Her intuition also gave her the uneasy feeling that this “problem” had something to do with the mess around City Hall and probably the dream she’d had the night before.
Instead of lounging in the back yard and feigning sickness all day, she had to find a way to convince her dad to let her out of his sight long enough to walk a couple of blocks to the nearest cobblestone street or to the stone monument by the park so she could follow the note’s instructions and try and talk to a Gnome. A smile started to tug at the corner’s of Emily’s mouth. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a dull summer after all.