If you're not caught up on this story, first, read Tesseract, then Neverwas. Come back here when you're caught up!

Scent Notes: Coconut fruit and milk infused with rich, black tea. Sandalwood and milky sweetness.

“Sir, I have some bad news. The, uh … the girls have gotten away again,” the lackey said to his boss. At hearing the news, the boss threw his coffee mug into the wall, where it smashed spectacularly. The boss in question was only known as Mr. Jones, and he was feared by everyone he worked with. The lackey left and appeared a minute later with a roll of paper towels and a broom, and began to clean up the remnants of the smashed mug. 

“Again! How are you all so incompetent?” Mr. Jones asked. The lackey looked like he was about to stop and answer him, but Mr. Jones just waved him off and out of the room. He pushed a button on his desk, which closed his office door with a loud bang. Technically, it was just supposed to shut, but he’d rewired it to make sure it slammed shut and scared everyone in the office multiple times a day, because he thrived in an environment of fear. And he was just a jerk by nature.

This lack of fear was likely contributing to the lack of success in this matter, he thought. Success, in this case, meant stopping that girl and her small sisters from discovering the truth behind her father's leaving all of them, and her mother’s disappearance. Though, to be totally honest, they weren’t sure where the mother was at this moment, either. The women in this family were far too smart for his comfort level. His agency kept being avoided and thwarted, and he wasn’t even sure they knew he existed. Well, that was about to change.

He pushed the button again, banging the door back open. There was a giant hole in the wall from where the doorknob always kept hitting when the door opened. “I’m going out,” he said in a booming voice. “I expect you all to meet me on Bailiwick within the hour.”

“But, boss, why do you think they’re in Bailiwick?” one of his lackeys asked.

“Call it intuition,” he said with a smile. And he slammed out of the office. Somewhere, a picture fell off a wall and shattered. A temp started crying. 


“Dad?” Mandy asked again, incredulously. “Is that … really you?”

The figure came closer, and as the shadows moved away, the man spoke. “I’m sorry, ladies, but I’m not a father. Not quite old enough to have daughters your age, or any age, really.” The man was much younger than he’d appeared from far away, though he did maintain a resemblance to their father. He looked to be only a few years older than her, maybe 18 or 19. He was handsome, with sandy blonde hair and brown eyes, a combination Mandy had never seen before. She’d been confused as he had a nose similar to her father’s: Prominent in an attractive way, not so large it looked weird, but big enough that you definitely noticed it. Plus, in the darkness, his hair had been darker. His blond, shiny strands were only more obvious when he walked towards them and the setting sun. He had an odd accent that Mandy couldn’t place.

Mandy’s face fell, but she recovered, bolstered partially by the handsomeness of this stranger and the way he smiled at her. Her sisters were hanging back, uncertain, which was unlike them. They normally ran headfirst into any and all situations, and this sent an alarm bell off in Mandy’s head. 

Just as it began to ring and send her and her sisters elsewhere, music began playing on unseen speakers throughout the town. The voice was hauntingly familiar. The twins began to scream in excitement. Mandy turned her back to the stranger to face her sisters, who’d begun yelling, “That’s dad! Dad is singing, dad is singing!” Mandy shushed them as the song continued to play. It cut out midway through the song as an announcement started. “Tomorrow night at the Bailiwick Amphitheater, our very own Howlin’ Coyote will be performing a special show, the last one of his universal tour. Don’t miss it!” With that, everything fell silent. Mandy’s ears, however, were ringing with the echoes of that voice. “That was totally dad,” Amy said. “Yup, absolutely,” Allie added. “That was his singing voice. We don’t remember much about him, but we do know his voice.” Mandy looked at her sisters; their faces were serious. “It did sound like dad,” she agreed in a quiet voice. The three of them were just staring at each other. Mandy reached out and held their hands, forming a calming circle. Amy and Allie had such small, warm hands. They were transmitting comfort to Mandy via their minds and hands, trying to help calm her racing mind. They wanted to comfort their big sister without drawing attention to themselves, since the atmosphere here just felt … strange. Their dad was here, as a famous singer? How did he get here? Did he know how to use the tesseract as well?

Mandy appreciated her sisters trying to comfort her, and pulled them into a big group hug, but her mind was still going a million miles a second. This was all so absurd. They’d just landed in this … place (planet? town? simulation? galaxy?) to find a handsome young man who reminded her of her father, and her actual father was apparently some kind of famous singer? What? As if that wasn’t all weird enough, she couldn’t see anyone else in the town in the distance. Like, there was evidence of life, to be sure, but there weren’t people to be seen. It looked like a movie set. Everything was so quaint, so perfect. It didn’t look like real people lived there. Mandy absentmindedly rubbed her sister’s backs as they all kept hugging. “Thanks for keeping us safe and getting us away from scary mom,” Amy said. “Yeah, we really didn’t like her,” Allie said. “It’s just the three of us, for now, until we can get to dad. Maybe we can find him tonight?”

“Howlin’ Coyote is a local sensation! He’s been on a gigantic, universal tour, and he’s back in town tomorrow to perform his last show,” the man said. While the song had played and the sisters had been hugging, he had walked up right behind Mandy. She didn’t know he was there until his voice startled her back to consciousness. “Oh! You’re still here,” she said. He nodded. “Seems like you ladies could use some help getting around?” The twins were reticent again, but Mandy said, “Yes, we absolutely could use a place to sleep for the night. We’ve had a very long and, uh, interesting day today. We got separated from our parents, but, our dad is apparently playing a show here tomorrow and we need somewhere to stay. The little ones could definitely use some sleep.” “We’re not THAT little!” Allie and Amy yelled back simultaneously, causing Mandy and the stranger to laugh. “Well, shoot! The daughters of Howlin’ Coyote! I’m meeting celebrities tonight!” “What’s your name?” Mandy asked,. He smiled back, and Mandy noticed his slightly crooked lips, and felt a tiny rush of butterflies that she quickly tried to suppress. “I’m Jackson,” he said, sticking out his hand. Mandy took his hand in hers and shook it confidently. “I’m Mandy, and these are my sisters, Allie and Amy.” The twins waved. Jackson got down into a squat to shake their hands, but the twins just hid behind Mandy. Jackson laughed it off and stood back up. “Well, follow me, ladies. I’ll take you to the hotel down the street. My parents own it, so you can have a room for the night free of charge.” He smiled. Mandy was shocked. “Why would you let us have a free room?” “Well, you’re allegedly the daughters of my favorite musician, you’ve clearly had a hard day, you’re alone, and you could use some help, couldn’t you? I’d heard he had kids who lived elsewhere, and it’s wonderful to see they exist!” Mandy stared at his kind, smiling face. “Well, actually, would you be able to take us to Howlin’ Coyote?” His smile disappeared for a second, then magically reappeared. “Sorry, he’s not here yet. He apparently ran into some engine trouble with his tour bus. He’ll be here just as the show is starting tomorrow.” Mandy’s face fell, but she tried to recover quickly, and gave him a wan smile. “In that case, yes, we will take you up on a place to stay the night, thank you.” He was practically beaming as he nodded and said, “Follow me, ladies!” Mandy started to follow him.

The twins, however, stayed where they were. Mandy turned around and saw them standing stock still, so she doubled back, grabbed their hands, and forced them to walk with her. “We don’t trust him,” they said in unison. “Well, I don’t trust him, but I also don’t not trust him, either,” Mandy said. “The sun has nearly set. We have absolutely no idea where we are nor why the tesseract sent us here, and we just heard what seemed to be our dad singing, with the promise of him putting on a concert here tomorrow night. We have no choice but to stay and find out what’s going on, okay? Plus, the crystals are silent. I think we’re alright for now.” The twins nodded in quiet agreement, just as Jackson turned around and shouted, “Hey ladies, come on! Catch on up!” Mandy hustled herself and the twins forward, and the four of them walked further into Bailiwick.

They walked down what appeared to be the main thoroughfare, past quaint-looking shops and cafes, with nary a chain store or franchise restaurant to be found. Jackson was walking ahead, pointing things out, but the girls were barely paying attention. The streetlights had come on, illuminating the shops, but there were still no other people to be seen. “Up ahead at the end of the road is the amphitheater where we’ll go tomorrow,” he said. “That’s where Coyote is playing. Since Bailiwick is so small, I happen to know the people that operate that fine facility, and I can probably get you ladies backstage to meet the famous man himself. Well, you’ve met him, he’s your dad! I’m sure people will be excited to hear that you’ve arrived!”

“What kind of name is Howlin’ Coyote?” Allie asked. “Yeah, we all know coyotes can howl, but why would someone name their kid that?” “You’re both smart enough to know the answer to that,” Mandy said. “It’s a stage name, a persona, something that allows dad to be famous and anonymous and keep his privacy. And it’s a joke about how well he sings, that he howls into the night.” The twins nodded because they had known this all along, as Mandy thought. They all just wanted to talk about their dad. “Coyotes are cool. A-wooooooo!” Allie said, throwing back her head into a howl. Amy giggled, and joined in. Soon, Mandy and Jackson started howling, too, and all four howled down the empty street. It released some of the tension the sisters had been carrying, and Mandy felt lighter for a moment.

Suddenly, Jackson turned a hard left down one of the few alleys Bailiwick seemed to have. Mandy was temporarily scared, and she felt the twins stop walking. The three of them locked arms and cautiously followed Jackson. It turned out to just be the side entrance of the only hotel in Bailiwick. It was a quaint little hotel, just four floors tall, but it seemed gigantic compared to the rest of the shops along the street. Jackson led them through the lobby, where he ducked behind the front desk to check on what rooms were available for the night. He made a mark in the book behind the counter, opened a door and grabbed something, and came out from behind the desk, holding aloft a key. “Here you go, ladies,” he said cheerfully, dropping the key in Mandy’s hand. “Room 432. I’ll show you to it and let you get comfortable for the night. I’ll send up some food, too. Nothing special but y’all gotta eat, right?” He winked at Mandy, and she blushed. “Follow me!” he said, and they did. Up the elevator, turn right, turn left, towards the end of the hall on the right side: Room 432. “Thank you, so much, for taking such pity on us. I promise we do not take it for granted and we will repay you.” Jackson waved his hand. “Anything to help ladies in need,” he said with a bow. Then he turned and walked back down the hallway, whistling a song Mandy knew but couldn’t place. Mandy took the key and opened the door. Inside were two queen sized beds, a large screen TV, a desk, a floor lamp, two small dressers, and on the far side of the room, floor-to-ceiling curtains, which the twins promptly ran towards. Pulling them open, they squealed with delight. “A balcony!!” They opened the sliding glass doors and went out, Mandy running behind. “Hey! We have to be safe out here!” she said, as the twins had been jumping up and down, and all but climbing up the railing. “Sorry,” they said in unison, then ran back inside to jump on the beds.

Mandy secured the balcony, but left the curtains open. It was dark, and it wasn’t exactly a picturesque city, but it was pretty and oddly comforting to view what appeared to be the entirety of Bailiwick from their sliding glass door. “Okay, wild ones,” Mandy said. “I’m going to hop in the shower. You two are going to put on a show on this fancy hotel TV, stop jumping on the beds, and relax. Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be back in ten minutes, tops, so we can watch cartoons and go to sleep, okay?” The twins dutifully stopped jumping on the beds, and got into one bed together to snuggle under the covers. Mandy gave the remote to Amy, and the girls turned on the TV, wildly flipping through the channels. They might be descended from goddesses and somehow all-knowing and who knows what other powers they may possess, but they were still small girls: TV and a big bed for the two of them to share in a hotel room was the height of luxury. Mandy smiled and went into the little bathroom. Little toiletries were lined up on the sink: Shampoo, conditioner, bar soap, and a tiny bottle of lotion. Well, they aren’t specially formulated products for her curly hair, but beggars can’t be choosers, she thought to herself. After the absolutely draining day full of stuff from science fiction movies, she needed a shower and a minute to herself. First, though, she quickly stuck her head out and checked on the twins. They’d found a cartoon they liked, and were giggling happily in bed, arms around each other. That was how they’d always slept, snuggled up together, finding comfort in their sisterhood. They looked over at Mandy and made silly faces. Mandy wrinkled her nose, crossed her eyes, and stuck out her tongue in return, making them all laugh. Mandy tucked her head back in and shut the door. She felt safe leaving them for a few minutes.

It felt like fate, or the plot of a YA novel, or something. They’d finally landed where their dad was some kind of folk country superstar, though the town itself was odd; they were in a comfortable, safe hotel; the three of them were together; they still had their transducer and crystals to protect them. She peeled off her clothing and turned on the water, which came out hot and fast. Turning the knob slightly, she got in the shower, avoiding looking at her reflection in the mirror. Her body was changing, and she wasn’t fully comfortable with that fact on a normal day, let alone on a day like today. She’d grabbed the toiletries off the sink, and quickly went through an abbreviated version of her shower routine. Showers allowed her to relax, as long as she didn’t focus too much on her body. She was about to pick at a pimple she’d found on her shoulder when she heard the knock on the door. A sudden feeling of dread overwhelmed her, and she hastily began rinsing off. She heard one of the twins open the door, followed by a shriek. “Girls!” she yelled out, jumping out of the shower, leaving the water running. Enveloping herself quickly with a towel, she opened the bathroom door to find: A smorgasbord. A room service tray was full to bursting just inside the door, and that’s why one of the twins had squealed. Cheeseburgers, french fries, chicken nuggets, ice cream sundaes … everything the twins could have dreamed of was present. Mandy sighed. “Eat some real food before you devour the ice cream,” she said as she returned to her shower.

When she came out a few minutes later, the twins were feasting. She’d never seen them eat so much, and they were getting food all over the bedding. How hot fudge ended up on the wall, she wasn’t sure, but she knew she’d be making them clean it up in the morning. For now, she decided to let them behave like the children they really were, powers or not. She grabbed a cheeseburger and a sundae and hopped into her own bed to enjoy the decadent gluttony that came with pretending to be an adult. Soon enough, the twins were passed out. Normally, the ice cream would have kept them awake from all the sugar, but this had not been a normal day. Mandy switched the TV from the cartoon show to a channel all about home improvement. She half paid attention as she planned a dream home in her mind, with plenty of space for her future family, as she, too, fell into a dark, dreamless sleep.

Mandy awoke what felt like days later. Her sleep had been so total, so consuming, it almost felt like she’d been drugged. It had certainly been quite some time since she’d had a completely dreamless sleep, and waking into a world that felt like a dream in and of itself made her feel disoriented and confused. “Where … what … Girls?” she called out in a small voice. “We’re here!” Allie and Amy responded in unison. They were crunching on something. Mandy sat up and rubbed at her eyes, still not fully awake or understanding. “They brought up breakfast!” Amy said with a smile. Indeed, another tray full of food had replaced the one they’d decimated the night before. Amy was eating a bowl of cereal as big as her head, while Allie was making quick work of a chocolate croissant. Mandy got up and chose a plate of eggs and toast, along with a pot of black tea. She wasn’t much of a caffeine drinker, and coffee always smelled gross to her, but a pot of tea just sounded correct for this morning. She’d clear the fog from her head and they would figure out what was going on. 

“How long have you two been awake?” she asked. Amy was slurping milk from her bowl, so Allie answered. “This is my third croissant, so, a while.” That’s when Mandy looked at the clock on her bedside dresser and discovered that it was nearly 1PM. “Woah!” she said. “Why did you two let me sleep so long?” This time, Allie’s mouth was too full of pastry, so Amy answered. “You were so peaceful, and we thought you needed the rest.” Mandy’s heart skipped a beat. Her sisters were such kind, compassionate kids. If she was going to be stuck in … wherever she was stuck, she was happy to have these girls by her side. She got back up and climbed in bed with them, so they could all eat breakfast together. “No more sugar for either of you,” she said, putting their empty plate and bowl on their bedside dresser. The twins just nodded, both so sugar high they couldn’t do anything but sit there with their sister while they watched more cartoons. Soon enough, Mandy made the twins clean up their food mess (including the hot fudge wall stain), shower, and the three of them got as ready as they could to walk down to the amphitheater to see the show. Mandy wished they at least had changes of clothes so they could look a little more presentable. She also made sure they took their few belongings, including their prototype transducer and crystals, with them, as she had no idea what would happen once they arrived at the amphitheater. Would their dad cancel his show and sweep up the girls and take them away? Would he dedicate the performance to them but leave right after, breaking their hearts again? Would their mom be in the crowd, somehow, ready to reclaim the man she had loved and lost?

Mandy, lost in her thoughts, had barely noticed that the three of them had made it to the hotel lobby, where a large poster of Howlin’ Coyote had filled the front window. The poster, however, showed him wearing a mask with a bandana covering his mouth, and an oversized cowboy had on his head, like an old timey train bandit. “He really does protect his privacy, huh,” Mandy wondered out loud to herself. “He sure does, but that’s what makes him so interesting!” a voice answered her. She turned, and sure enough, it was Jackson. “I’m here to escort you ladies to the venue. Shall we?” he asked, extending his arm so Mandy could loop hers through. She smiled and did so with utmost gratitude. She held Amy’s hand, who held Allie’s hand, and the four of them left the hotel to walk down to the amphitheater, a line of smiling, happy people.

Outside, the air was playing a non-stop stream of Howlin’ Coyote’s music. It was catchy, melodic, and distinctly her father’s singing voice. It put her at ease, and she felt Amy and Allie relax as well. Mandy had put the transducer in her pocket for safe keeping, and she absentmindedly patted it with the hand connected to the arm that was looped through Jackson’s arm. “Oh, don’t worry, you don’t need any money,” he said, completely misreading what she had been doing. “You’re Howlin’ Coyote’s daughters, heck, I’m sure you’re never worried about money!” Jackson said, chuckling to himself. Mandy shot a glance to the twins, who were just in such sheer awe at what was happening that they weren’t even paying attention to what Jackson was saying. Mandy, though, stifled a giggle, then a heavy sigh. Being rich was not even close to her reality, though she was beginning to wonder what “reality” even meant. 

They kept walking, and shortly joined up with a large crowd of people who were also all walking into the amphitheater. Mandy looked behind her and saw many other groups linking up and walking towards them, towards the stage, towards her father. She saw trucks and tour busses parked alongside the venue. Her heart started to race. It was happening; she was going to get her father back, and then they could all find their mother. She didn’t want to tell the twins, though she assumed they could read her thoughts, but she was getting increasingly anxious about the fact that their mother had just vanished into thin air, into whatever world the tesseract took her. “We know; we’re anxious, too,” Amy said quietly. Allie nodded. Her crystal was still in the transducer, safe in Mandy’s pocket. Mandy unhooked her arm from Jackson and swept her sisters off to the side of the road. She crouched down and pulled them into a deep hug. There had been a lot of hugging in the past 24 hours, and they all seemed to be fine with it. Amy and Allie were big into hugs. “Look. If things are bad, if the crystals start humming, if we need to get out of here, we will. Together. I’m not going to let anything happen to you, or to us. You two are too smart and too sensitive, and I’ll protect you forever. Okay?” The twins nodded into her shoulders. “We know you will,” they said together. They all got up holding hands, with Mandy in the middle, and they caught up to Jackson, who had realized they weren’t with him and walked over to the side of the road. This time, though, he gave them plenty of space. “C’mon, ladies, let’s get inside!” Mandy hurried them forward, but snuck a glance over her shoulder. Her jaw dropped. Somehow, what appeared to be thousands of people were walking up toward the amphitheater. There couldn’t be that many people in this little town! “Let’s get inside so we can get great seats!” she said to Amy and Allie, who clung to her hands so tightly Mandy was worried they would leave bruises.

Finally, they made it to the venue. Jackson led them through security, produced tickets, and directed them to their seats. Mandy and her sisters made a pit stop at the bathroom along the way. Mandy fidgeted nervously with her curls in the communal mirror as her sisters went into separate bathroom stalls. Why wouldn’t her hair cooperate with her today? Why did her face and body look this way? She wanted Jackson to think she was pretty, interesting, and effortlessly cool. The hot fudge stain on the side of her shirt quickly erased all those possibilities, she thought, trying to wash it out in the sink. “Damn!” she swore under her breath, checking to see if her sisters, who’d just emerged from the stalls, had heard. They might have, but they didn’t say anything. They just washed their hands and practically ran out the door, super excited for this experience.

The venue was filling quickly. They’d somehow secured amazing seats, smackdab in the middle of the rows, with a perfect view of the dead center of the stage. “Cooool,” the twins said quietly. They’d never been to a real concert before, and the atmosphere was intoxicating. Lots of people were wearing shirts with Howlin’ Coyote’s face on it, including Jackson. He beamed as he showed it off. “I bought it when you ladies were in the restroom,” he said confidently. “Do you like it?” “Yeah, it’s way cool,” Mandy said. The masked face of her father on the chest of this boy she thought was cute was a little weird, but, she’d get over it. It’s not like they had a future together or anything. She just wanted to seem like the type of girl a boy like Jackson could, y’know, like, that’s all. Again, she wished her curls were more sprightly today. Oh well.

Suddenly, cheers erupted from the crowd. She looked at the stage to see … not her father. “There’s always an opener, you know,” Jackson yelled as the music started. Right. She’d forgotten that the big stars never open a show. There always has to be at least one other band playing before the main attraction, to get the crowd going, before the headliner took the stage. “We knew this would happen,” Amy said. “But you’ve never been to a concert before!” Mandy protested. “No, but we just know everything,” Allie answered. Touche, Mandy thought.

The openers were fun. The music wasn’t great, and to be honest, the male lead singer had a voice Mandy did not care for. In fact, it sounded vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place where she had heard it before. They did, however, have great energy. It was infectious to the crowd. Jackson, Mandy, and the twins bounced in their seats, along with everyone surrounding them. Jackson got up to dance to a song he knew, and pulled Mandy up to dance with him. The twins giggled as the two twirled and grooved along to the music. The song ended. “Thank you everyone, we were Test Subject Zero, and coming up soon: Howlin’ Coyote!” The crowd went wild. “Woo, that set made me hungry and thirsty! I’m going to go get us some snacks.” Jackson bent down to the twins. “Little ladies, how do you feel about some hot dogs and fries?” The twins nodded vigorously. “We love those!” “Okay, stay here with your sister,” he said, standing up and winking at Mandy, who was back in her seat. Once Jackson was out of earshot, the twins started talking frantically. “What are we going to do when we see dad?” Amy asked. “Yeah, do you think he knows we’re here? We’re pretty sure he knows,” Allie butted in. “And what about after the show, do we get to hug him? Can we go onstage?” Amy said halfway through Allie’s sentence. “Woah, woah, easy girls, easy,” Mandy said. “Relax. We’ll listen to a few songs, make sure it really IS dad, and we’ll see if Jackson knows somebody who can get us backstage. If it is him, we’ll talk to him, and we’ll get some answers. Okay?” The twins nodded and calmed down.

A few minutes later, Jackson came back, his arms loaded with food. He doled out snacks, and the four of them sat there, eating contentedly. Allie said, “This is the greatest day of my LIFE,” between bites of a foot-long hot dog. 

They’d just finished eating when the lights on stage dimmed, and Howlin’ Coyote and his band came striding out. Mandy felt her heart pounding throughout her entire body. Dad! She thought. It’s him! He’s here, he’s going to sing, he’s in his bailiwick in Bailiwick and they would be reunited, finally. “We know!” Amy and Allie answered her thoughts out loud. Howlin’ Coyote greeted the crowd enthusiastically, then started playing. The crowd went nuts; you could barely hear him over the roar of the crowd singing, screaming, and clapping along. He’s a superstar, she thought again. It was amazing to witness, and she felt tears stinging her eyes. Am I ever going to go a day without crying?, she wondered. “Eventually,” Amy said. “Hey, stop reading my thoughts and enjoy the show!” Mandy whisper-yelled at her. Amy rolled her eyes in that exaggerated way again, but she complied. 

Time passed in a blur. Mandy was enraptured by her father’s voice and stage presence. Several times he looked at them in a way that Mandy thought meant he knew who they were, but he gave no sign of knowing or actually seeing them. Towards the end of his set, as the sun was setting, he started a cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Hearing her father, and not a weird robot facsimile version of her father, sing the song made Mandy burst into tears. She sat down, sobbing hard. The twins wrapped their arms around her. Jackson sat down. “Hey, you okay?” “No, I want to leave. I want to go,” Mandy responded. “Okay,” Jackson said, “Let’s get you some air.” He helped her up, and the twins followed closely behind. They left their seats, walked to the edge, and walked down the aisle towards the stage. Mandy thought he’d direct her towards the exit. Instead, they kept walking closer to the stage. “Where are you taking us?” she asked him. “To see your dad!” he answered, his voice sounding odd. 

Sure enough, they walked up some side steps, through security, and into the wings of the stage. Nobody seemed to question their unauthorized presence. Mandy’s head was spinning. Jackson was gripping her tightly. The song ended, and the crowd burst into thunderous applause yet again. “This is my final song,” he said into the microphone, to a chorus of boos. “I know, I know,” he said. “But I’m dedicating this song to my girls, who are here tonight, and whom I haven’t seen in far too long. Ladies, this is for you. I hope you’ll understand how important the lyrics are.” He began to strum his guitar. “You keep running away / You come back to me / But still you won’t stay,” he crooned. Just then, Mandy glanced down the stage, into the wing on the other side. She could just barely see a woman’s head full of luscious, bouncing curls … Mom? She turned back to the twins, and caught a glimpse of Jackson’s face. The friendly, smiling features had turned dark and scary. By the time she turned back, the woman’s head was gone.

Alarms started ringing in Mandy’s head, and not only there: The crystals they were carrying began to emit that horrible tone again, warning of danger. “Amy, Allie, GO!” she yelled, and the twins began to run away. A familiar voice cried out, “Grab the girls!” Sure enough, the twins were each scooped up by a member of the opening “band,” as the lead singer emerged from the shadows. “Bring Mandy to me,” he said. “Sure thing, Mr. Jones,” Jackson responded, his arms still around Mandy. Mandy and her sisters were surrounded. “Well, well, we finally meet at last,” the man who was apparently Mr. Jones said, and in that moment, Mandy knew how she knew him. He was one of the voices from her dreams, one of the men chasing her while she slept. She nearly passed out from the realization. “What do you want with us?” she yelled out. “Oh, I’m sure you’ve realized not everyone is capable of traveling through space and time, Mandy. You, your mother, and your sisters are special. We needed you to come out here willingly. Your father was the perfect bait. He didn’t go along willingly, of course, but we had ways of making him play along.” She felt the transducer vibrating in her pocket. Her mind was racing a thousand miles a minute. Who was this man? How had he taken her father? How did he know about … everything?! 

Start chanting! Use your crystal, get us out of here!, she mentally screamed at Amy and Allie, who were struggling in the arms of their captors. At that moment, one of them produced a roll of duct tape, and put it over the twins’ mouths. They were kicking and trying to scream, yet it was all for naught. Mr. Jones took the duct tape, and put a piece over Mandy’s mouth. A handkerchief was wrapped around Mandy’s eyes, darkening the world, cutting her off from her sisters. She felt someone reach into her pocket and take the transducer; she guessed it was Mr. Jones. She fought harder, kicking, trying to get her arms free from Jackson’s tight grasp. Surely her father would rescue her; he was just a few hundred feet away. He knew this was happening, he would come and save the day. But he was still playing to his adoring crowd. “Your father can’t save you now,” Mr. Jones’s voice echoed close to her ear. She heard, rather than felt, something hit her head, and then all went totally black.

Scent Notes: Coconut fruit and milk infused with rich, black tea. Sandalwood and milky sweetness.