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“I think I’ll make a pot of tea,” said Ángel Guerra, having just learned that an irrefutable truth prophecy had foretold Mayview’s destruction. “Would you like some, Izzy doll?”
Isabel’s face scrunched up like the rest of her, packed tight with hands in pockets in an overflowing aisle of her dad’s tiny antique store. Her mom dropped her off to visit him at the Mayview Mini Mall every other weekend or so, which most often meant an afternoon of awkward silence while she finished all her homework. Today, though, she’d mixed things up by warning him about a looming local apocalypse, and was expecting he’d at least say “yikes” or “hmm, well that seems bad” before returning to his usual serenity.
“...You don’t believe me,” murmured Isabel. He always found new ways to disappoint.
“Of course I believe you,” Ángel countered, giving his daughter a patient smile.
Isabel scowled. Her dad was always acting like she wasn’t getting something, as if he had a wonderful secret to share if she would only stop being so stubborn. It got her angry instantly every time, but showing that just made it worse, so she blinked three times and bit her tongue instead
Ángel nodded as if he’d noticed and was proud of her, which flared Isabel’s frustration past the point where she could hide it
“I simply know it will not help to panic,” her father said, turning the other cheek to leave. “Herego, a calming cup of tea...” With a little bob, he dipped into the sliver of a hallway behind the shop’s counter, the one that led to its back room. “Besides, I’m busy being overjoyed you came to me for help!” he called back with a smile in his voice.
That really, really wasn’t why she’d told him, but he was either blissfully unaware why that would be (which was quite possible) or throwing out a subtle guilt trip that might make her reconsider. Isabel sighed. She didn’t see what her dad could do to help avert a town-destroying cataclysm, whatever it might be. He didn’t fight, he wasn’t part of the Consortium, and he never let the haunted junk that he collected leave his shop
“I am an antique dealer, not an arms dealer,” he’d say. “Let the beings in these objects rest in peace
Isabel had only wanted him to know he was in danger. Sure, nobody could skip town right now, but it was just a matter of time before the Consortium found someone with the right color energy to use the ghost train’s powers, or brought in a medium who could teleport past the barrier, or just asked Mr. Walker to pop it—he’d blown the dang bubble in the first place, after all. Whatever the eventual solution, with a heads up, her dad could keep his head down and out of the clouds long enough for someone else to fix the problem. That was the most she dared to hope for from her father, and even that seemed like a stretch.
Isabel slumped against the nearest shelf, barely bothered by the resulting rattle of precariously-placed porcelain. Her dad had been the first she’d told. Against old instincts, she’d left Mr. Spender in the dark, and asked the rest of the Activity Club to do the same. After the incident with Hijack, Isabel was feeling like she’d never really known him. First there was the shadow that attacked them on the night they’d rode the ghost train. She’d never seen a spirit so aggressive... and it had been in Spender all this time. For all she knew, THAT thing was what was going to escape and wreck the town, and how was she supposed to handle that?? Isabel didn’t know how Mr. Spender would react if she confronted him. She couldn’t even pick out a puppet wearing Spender’s skin when it did tons of things he’d never do, like ask how she was holding up, or care about anything other than... whatever it was that Mr. Spender actually cared about
Isabel ran a finger through dust gathered on an old book on the shelf. Even her dad had noticed that Eightfold was missing right away, as useless as his sympathy had felt. Had Spender always been that distant? Isabel sighed again. The only thing she understood about him anymore was who he wasn’t. He wasn’t a hero, he wasn’t invincible, he wasn’t her protector or the town’s. If she told him about the sphinx and its grim portent, she couldn’t trust he wouldn’t run off to solve the whole thing by himself... and she couldn’t trust he’d come back safely if he did.
Someone in the Activity Consortium had to know, though... which meant Isabel was going to have to tell her grandfather instead. She’d been trying to work up the courage when her mom showed up to bring her to her dad’s. Of course Isabel had thought about telling her, too, but no adult seemed like the right one in the moment. They all had their own worlds they were busy with, just like always.
But Dimitri was still part of hers. She had to warn him too. If he’d show up to help fight Hijack, then he’d show up to save the town—or whatever it was the Activity Club was going to try to do from here on out. With Dimitri around, it felt like their group had two leaders, not just her, and he was smart and calm where she was... well, where she was Isabel. She missed that, and she hoped that he’d know what they should do next about this whole sphinx mess. She certainly didn’t.
Maybe her dad could drop her off at his place on the way back to her grandpa’s. She hadn’t been since he quit the club, but she used to swing by all the time back in fifth grade... Dimitri always acted put upon when she showed up, but then they’d romp around backyards until the sun went down.
Isabel let her gaze drift across the shop as the soft hum of the back room’s electric kettle filled the air. All those memories were antique, too... precious and fragile. She was scared to take them off their shelf and test their strength like she had Spender’s. What if they just weren’t what they used to be?
“Wow,” said a little turtle voice beside her. “Art is beautiful.”
Isabel gave Flipflop a weary look, both inquisitive and utterly incurious, which sent him into grovel mode immediately.
“Um. Yep. Vases and stuff. Little, uh... these little wooden ducks.” His hand passed through an antique on the shelf. “Been feeling you soaking it all in the last few minutes and, um... y’know, it’s like... I’m, uh, I’m right there with you, man.”
Isabel slowly turned away from him and stared off into space.
“Art sucks,” said a desperate Flipflop. “It’s awful. To kill a tree to carve a duck is to spit in the face of Gaia herself—”
“You’re good, man,” Isabel said, and Flipflop deflated like a wrung sponge with a great sigh of relief.