Ella crossed her arms and tapped her foot.
I scowled at her. She was imitating our mother in exactly the way designed to make Mother forbid us the evening’s festivities. And I was right.
“That’s it,” Mother snapped. She pointed at Ella and shook her finger, that uncomfortable wag that always made me wonder if she might lose control of her power and actually send an elemental charge in our direction. “You’re staying home this evening. Both of you.”
“But, Mother…” I began. I wasn’t whining, I swear it. I intended a reasoned, thought-out argument. Or at least to point out that it was only Ella who was annoying her.
“No whining. And no impudence!”
I swallowed my words, but my scowl at my sister became a glare. She smirked at me.
Mother swirled away from us in a huff of fury, her robes sparkling with electric charges. She tossed a parting shot over her shoulder. “And I’ll be telling your father about this. See if I don’t!”
“Now you’ve done it.” I dropped into the window seat behind me.
“Pfft.” Ella dropped her arms to wave her hand. “You know she wouldn’t dare.”
“She might.” I turned my gaze to the landscape on the other side of the glass. Our bedroom was the highest room in the tower. From the window, I could see the front gardens of the estate, the wall that surrounded it, the winding road that led away from it, and the tips of forest trees. In the distance, I could see the faint blue of the rising hills.
I’d been looking out upon that view for seventeen years—assuming that a nurse held me in the right direction when I was a fussy baby—and I was heartily sick of it.
I’d been looking forward to the evening’s escape. Even if it was only for a few hours, even if it was simply a neighborly dinner, it was a change. Any change would be an improvement over the monotony of our daily life.
“She won’t.” Ella crossed the room and sat down beside me. “And even if she did, what would he do?”
“Turn you into a chicken,” I suggested. I didn’t know whether our father could do such a transformation, but he was famed for his magic. And his temper. If anyone could, it would be him and if anyone would, that would be him, as well.
“Squawk!” Ella flapped her arms like wings.
My lips twitched.
“You didn’t want to go to that stupid dinner, anyway.” Ella leaned forward. “If you let her marry you off to one of those Grover boys, you’ll be trapped forever.”
I sighed. Ella wasn’t wrong. Our neighbors had three sons, Lionel, Daniel, and Parnell. It was hard to know which one of them was worse. Lionel, the eldest, was pompous and self-righteous. He had a minor levitation talent but was otherwise ungifted, so he dismissed talents as remnants of another time. He was determined to enter politics and spent a great deal of time droning on about taxation and proper representation. Daniel was a water talent and as drippy and melancholy as the stereotypes suggested he would be. And he sniffled. Constantly. Parnell, the youngest, was the most talented of the bunch, but he was a braggart, constantly dropping the names of the other students at his prestigious school as if knowing them made him somehow special and important.
Still, in a competition between their company or staring at the same four walls, their company had its appeal.
“I want you to come with me tonight.” Ella put her hand on my leg, her eyes more serious than was her usual wont.
“Come where?” I asked, confused. I wasn’t entirely surprised that Ella had driven Mother into a temper in order to get out of the evening; she hated the Grovers. But where was she planning to go? We had no transportation, no way to leave the estate.
“You know.” She let her voice drop. “Tonight is the night, I’m sure of it.”
“The night for what?”
“The night that the hole opens.” She waited, expectant, her dark eyes locked on me.
I blinked at her, and then realized what she was talking about. “The hole in the garden wall? The hole that no one else can see? The hole that’s sometimes there and sometimes not?”
She jumped up and dashed back to her writing desk. She picked up a sheaf of papers and flourished them at me. “I’ve been researching. I’ve recorded every known sighting.”
I snorted. “Every known story, you mean. Ella, you can’t be serious. It’s a fairy tale. A long-lasting fairy tale, to be sure, but no more real than the ghost that haunts the great hall.”
“That ghost might very well be—“ she started and then stopped herself. “No, I refuse to let you distract me. Even though I believe that the ghost and the hole are probably symptoms of the same thing.”
“Symptoms of the same mental illness.” I rolled my eyes. “Something that includes delusions. Hallucinations, perhaps, but delusions, definitely.”
“Symptoms of a dimensional rift,” she corrected me.
“A dimensional—what?” I shook my head.
“It’s a hole in the fabric of space and time.” Ella clutched the sheaf of papers closer to her, pulling them tight against her chest. “As the earth and stars rotate, it moves, shifting out of alignment with our dimension, and then shifting back again. According to the records and my calculations, it appears every seventeen months and three days.”
“Every seventeen months and three days?” The number was remarkably precise, but surely much too frequent. The hole in the garden wall featured in a great many stories over the centuries that our family had lived on the estate, but not in the numbers that one would expect if it had appeared hundreds of time.
“It only appears for a few moments. I suspect mere minutes. And the location and time of day, while consistent, are such that most often no one would be present to witness the occasion.” Ella’s cheeks were flushing with eagerness.
“Wasn’t there a great-uncle who made a study of the hole?”