Lance Gallagher stood with his back against the red brick of the schoolhouse, his arms folded across his chest and his eyes narrowed to stare out at the track field. Tryouts were today and Mrs. Hayes had asked him to come in to help. Sometimes he regretted being trapped under her thumb, but without her sticking up for him he’d be in juvenile hall by now.
To think I could be out in the forest where no one would bother me. He felt distinctly grumpy. Watching people try to run faster than each other wasn’t his idea of fun….
“Lance! Come help carry these water bottles!” Mrs. Hayes appeared from behind the spectator stands with a box in her arms. Lance bounded forward, reminding himself of an obedient dog. He scowled but walked around the stands and picked up the other box of water bottles anyway, following Mrs. Hayes to the start line, where she was putting down the boxes for the kids trying out. Lance avoided looking at anyone and placed his box down as well, then turned with all intentions of leaving.
Something caught his attention. One of the girls lined up for tryouts was staring at him. She wasn't glancing covertly like the others, but blatantly staring; he met her gaze and felt a jolt in his stomach.
It was Whisper, the girl from the forest—the Carpenter. He felt himself shiver with unease at the girl’s penetrating green gaze. It was like she could see right through him….He felt a stirring of curiosity, however, so rather than going back to skulk around the schoolhouse again he took a seat at the stands to watch the tryouts.
“Okay, the first event is the fifty yard dash,” Mrs. Hayes mused, looking at her clipboard. “Everyone who signed up for that event line up—we’ll do the girls first.”
Whisper lined up with a gaggle of other hopeful girls. She wasn’t paying attention to Lance anymore, but was apparently focused on the dash. Mrs. Hayes held up a timer. “Ready,” all the girls finished lining up, “set,” they braced one foot behind the other, crouching down, ready to propel themselves forward, “GO!” and they were all off.
It started out as a whole line of girls, running about even, and then some began to pull forward. Whisper took the lead almost immediately, her braid flying out behind her and her legs a complete blur. Lance was impressed in spite of himself. The kid was wicked fast! She finished the dash a whole one and a half seconds before the next girl, at an impressive eight and a half seconds. She had beaten the school record!
Mrs. Hayes went straight to Whisper after the rest of the girls finished. Pauline Walters looked as though she were pouting again. “That was incredible!” Mrs. Hayes said to Whisper. “What’s your name again?”
Whisper looked quite as surprised as the teacher. “Whisper—Whisper Spring,” she said. “Is there a problem…?”
Mrs. Hayes shook her head emphatically, grinning. “No problem! I’m just impressed. I don’t think I’ve met you before…either you’re new in town or a freshman.”
“Both!” Whisper’s smile was back in a flash. “I was relieved to hear you’ve got a track team and a fencing club.” Lance thought he saw her eyes flicker in his direction and he looked away hastily.
Mrs. Hayes was over the moon. “I look forward to having you in club!” She had Whisper record her time and went to do the same for the other girls.
Next was the hundred-yard dash—Whisper raced that one, too, breaking the school record as though it were easy. She was even beating the boy’s records! A crowd was starting to gather to watch her; all sorts of kids were coming out from registration and coming to see what the commotion was all about. Finally, it was time for the mile run.
There were a couple of girls who tried dashing the mile—there always were. Lance thought rather critically that Whisper was certainly going too fast, even though she was short of a full on sprint. As the run continued, however, that criticism turned into incredulity. Every lap Whisper took was faster than the last, and she was at a full sprint for the last two. There were impressed roars from the on looking crowd and Teddy, photographer for the school paper and yearbook, begun clicking away on his camera.
Whisper finished the mile at four minutes and thirty-six seconds. For a fourteen-year-old, that was incredible. The world record was only about twenty seconds less, and she'd once again shattered the school record. For a fourteen-year-old, it was incredible. Lance watched her with his jaw agape; she hadn’t skipped a lap! He’d been counting!
Lots of kids crowded around Whisper as she jogged to Mrs. Hayes and bent over, hands on knees, and caught her breath. There were more enthusiastic cheers and questions for Whisper as her time was read out. She just laughed sheepishly, fiddling with her braid. “My parents have always said I’ve got too much stamina,” she explained.
She did seem to have recovered remarkably quickly. Other girls were finishing now too. Pauline finished third at quite a decent time, but stormed over to Mrs. Hayes with her blue eyes glaring at Whisper. “She skipped laps!” she accused petulantly, pointing a finger rudely at Whisper. Whisper’s eyes narrowed.
“I did not,” she responded coolly, odd green eyes flashing. Lance stood and began to make his way over to her, pushing his way through the crowd. Pauline spoke again, her shrill voice making his ears ache.
“She did too! I saw—”
“Pauline,” Mrs. Hayes said with considerable patience, “I was watching and I’m pretty sure—”
“The kid didn’t skip any laps,” Lance interrupted, glaring first at Pauline and then at Whisper. Whisper’s head swung around, her green gaze meeting his silver one. He frowned at her. “I was counting.”
Pauline stopped her arguing, looking rather like she’d been slapped across the face. She looked like she was pouting. Whisper, however, grinned.
“Thanks for sticking up for me,” she chirped. “And here I thought you didn’t like me. I never did get your name….”
Lance felt irritated. Why had he stuck up for the kid anyway? He narrowed his eyes at her. “I don’t like you,” he answered bluntly before walking off again. Whisper rolled her eyes at his back.
“I’m sorry about Lance,” Mrs. Hayes told Whisper half an hour later at the end of the tryouts. The two of them were talking together inside the school gym. Mrs. Hayes was shaking her head with disgust. “He’s always been a bit surly, but I never expected him to be so rude.”
Whisper smiled, unperturbed. “Don’t worry about it. I don’t think he meant it, anyway. Thanks for the club schedule, Mrs. Hayes.”
“No problem, Whisper. You know, I expect you to make us all famous, right?”
Whisper groaned. “Don’t say that! You’ll jinx me! I’ve never run as fast as I did today before….”
Mrs. Hayes laughed, her eyes crinkling pleasantly. “Well, go on then. I’ll see you Monday when school starts.”
Whisper nodded, letting out one of her quirky little smiles, and headed to the locker room to change out of her gym shorts and t-shirt. Her muscles protested pleasantly as she headed down the stairs, all limber after the days strains.
Pauline Walters was still in the locker room with her friend, Margie Cuthbert. Whisper ignored them and their chatter as she changed, but they weren’t content to do the same. Finished changing, Whisper turned to see them standing in front of the doorway, staring at her. Pauline was a sophomore and wasn’t much taller than Whisper, though dangerously pretty with her bleached hair and Hollywood worthy face. Margie, however, was a junior and a whole head taller than Whisper and her would-be nice face was disfigured with a sneer. Whisper stopped just outside their reach, watching them warily.
“So you’re name is Whisper,” Pauline stated flatly. “What kind of name is that, anyway? Your parents must be crazy.”
“Or just plain cruel,” sniggered Margie. “It sounds like they didn’t want you to ever speak aloud.”
“Oh, they’re definitely crazy,” Whisper replied seriously, her eyes widening earnestly. “Especially my dad. He’s nearly as unhinged as I am.”
The older girls blinked, surprised by her retort. “By the way,” Pauline snarled while changing tact, “I saw how you were coming on to Lance today. Stay away from him. A flat little kid like you’ll do nothing but annoy him.”
Still, Whisper was unfazed. “Oh, that’s okay. He’s not interested in you either, though. Your bubbling and whining would just drive him up a wall.”
Pauline flushed. “How would you know?” Margie sneered. “You’re just the new kid.”
Whisper shrugged innocently. She wasn’t going to try and explain anything to the two idiots before her. “It doesn’t matter, anyway. It’s just obvious you don’t know him either. I’ll bet if he weren’t handsome you wouldn’t even notice him at all.”
“Like you would?” Pauline snapped. Whisper regarded her silently. There was something queer about Lance. The older boy seemed so familiar somehow….
Margie flipped her black hair over one shoulder. “This kid is weird,” she said to Pauline. “I’ll bet her family doesn’t have much money, though. Look at the sate of those clothes!” Whisper was indeed wearing a ratty, old, baggy sweater and worn out jeans, but that was only because she’d spent the day working at the house; they were tearing through the gardens now, trying to give the pathetic looking roses a chance to breathe. Whisper wondered what the girls would think if they found out she was sole heiress to millions of dollars and the Faerie Haven Estate.
“Money isn’t important,” Whisper said dismissively, “and these clothes are comfortable. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go.”
Pauline and Margie exchanged smirks. “But we didn’t say you could go yet, did we?” Margie asked.
“Yes, we aren’t done with you yet,” Pauline added in falsely sweet tones.
“I don’t care,” Whisper answered. “I’m done with you.” She pushed past them. Pauline shrieked with rage and Margie seized Whisper’s arm, holding on to it tightly.
Adrenaline suddenly roared in Whisper’s veins, as instantaneous as if someone had flicked on a switch. She twisted violently, not only slipping from Margie’s grasp but sending the girl bouncing off the lockers as well. Before either could react, Whisper was already up the stairs and out of sight.
Jogging home was a relief for Whisper. The moist air in her lungs revitalized her and she was already recovered from the tryouts. She even picked up speed, going from a jog to a run and then to a full sprint. Each step propelled her entire body forward. Soon every breath felt like a dagger was being driven into her side and throat, but she kept going, her legs seeming to move of their own accord. It was as though her body was filled with a sense of urgency that her mind did not share. She raced out of town and down the side of the highway then onto the side road leading to her house. Soon she was passing the old iron gate, dashing through tendrils of silver mist and bursting into the yard.
Whisper allowed herself to collapse on the lawn, landing spread-eagled on her back and panting heavily. She stayed there awhile, feeling her muscles relax and begin to twitch as she slowly began to cool off. She closed her eyes lazily.
A voice sounded inside Whisper’s head, a strangely inhuman voice like what she’d heard her first time in the forest. Her eyes snapped open and she sat bolt upright, head spinning for a moment.
She hasn’t awakened yet, said another of the strange voices, rather scornfully. Whisper’s skin prickled. Something was watching her!
But she hears us! giggled the first voice. Poor little dreamer thinks she’s going mad! And the forest around the house broke out into a cacophony of girlish titters.
Silence! Another voice joined the fray; female still, but deep and rich and clear as a bell. The laughing died away and the new voice continued. Child, bear mind to the signs. Whisper knew, somehow, it was addressing her directly now, and it seemed oddly familiar. You of the Telling Dreams, go in and dream.
Fear turned Whisper’s blood cold, and yet it was not fear of the bodiless voices in the forest. Whisper was scared of something else, something in the distant past and the near future. Trembling like an autumn leaf, Whisper slowly made it to her feet and then, just as slowly, walked to the house and through the front door.
Mrs. Spring was in the kitchen, making a stew for supper. She looked up as Whisper came in. “Oh, there you are sweetie!” she beamed, seeming to be in an unusually good mood. “If you were out much longer I was going to have you dad come out looking for you. We need you to choose what room you’re staying in, dear, so we can get your things out of the living room.”
“O-oh,” Whisper stammered, taken off guard and trying to focus on something other than the mystery of the voices in the forest. “Oh dear. I know I should choose, but there’s just so many….”
Mrs. Spring smiled. “Yes there are. Even while I was little and all my cousins lived in the house we had five or six unoccupied rooms for guests. Of course, my father was the heir, so Lenard, Tori, and I had first pick.”
Whisper had never met any of her mother’s cousins. “Wow, that sounds like a lot of people.”
“It was!” Mrs. Spring laughed. “Of course, they’ve all moved away now. I think some of them were bitter that Grandfather named Dad as the sole heir. But it is family tradition for the eldest son to get it all.”
“So this would all have been Uncle Lenard’s if he’d wanted it?”
“Well, the estate would have been. Father actually thought it best if the money was split between his children. Your uncle is far from poor—he didn’t refuse everything the will offered.” She stirred the pot of stew and reached into the cupboard and pulled out bay leaves. “About that room….”
“Mom, can I take the attic?” The words tumbled out of Whisper’s mouth before she could stop them. She didn’t know why she’d asked for it after the fear and penetrating loneliness she’d experienced, but she just felt like the attic ought to be lived in somehow. The calm cheer faded from Mrs. Spring’s face as she turned slowly towards Whisper.
“The attic…? Why?”
Whisper shrugged uncomfortably. “I dunno, Mum, I just like it.”
“Tori’s old room,” Mrs. Spring sighed. “She spent weeks transporting the junk of ages from the attic to the basement so she could turn the attic into a bedroom.”
“Can I?” Whisper asked again.
“Of course you can, Whisp. Tori always said the attic was lonely without someone in it. She’d be glad to have you there.”
Whisper bounced a little in excitement. “Thank you!”
“Dinner will be ready in half an hour. You may as well make yourself useful until then and start moving in.”
Whisper bounded off without another word, grinning from ear to ear, the voices in the forest all but forgotten.