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First pages

Chapter One: Death is an Option

I gnawed my right thumbnail while watching the daily grind of people passing through the front entrance of the Pierre, thinking their life looked so much more cheerful than mine. An aged man walking his loyal companion paused at the elevator. A frail woman wearing a feather in her Edwardian hat nodded as she waited next to him.

They were dead. It wasn’t their transparency that told me they were dead. It was their black cloak of the Grimm, the classic uniform for spirits.

The Department of Incorporeal Beings held their meetings in the Pierre’s penthouse, which they shared with the mayor of New York. The Pierre was overrun by those who had spent more time dead than alive, even if it wasn’t obvious to most people. The majority of the population was ableptic—unable to see spirits—and wouldn’t bat an eye if a spirit hovered past them. I was a visumary: a living person who could communicate with the dead.

I sighed. It was a regular day for the dead old man and deceased woman from the early twentieth century. Neither of them were breaking up with their boyfriend.

My grandmother, who also happened to be the principal of Vita Post Mortem Academy, a school taught by famous spirits, was partially to blame for my relationship drama. Last June, she asked the mayor of New York to offer me an internship for the summer. She believed by interning in the mayor’s office, I could live with my adopted family and at the same time learn about the visumary community. It was a decent position for a sophomore in high school.

The last day of my internship was coming up, and I would be heading back to Vita Post Mortem Academy in California. It wasn’t the fact that I was leaving New York that made me anxious. My thumbnail was being massacred because Matthew Robinson was due to arrive any minute, and our break up was now or never.

Matthew spent the summer after graduation interning at Google in their New York office. Since he was new to the city, I offered to show him around. Big mistake. I knew he had feelings for me, and I should have told him it wasn’t mutual, but one thing led to another, and before long, he was calling me his girlfriend. Matthew was going to Stanford in the fall, and despite the fact that we were going to be in the same state, I wouldn’t feel any closer to him romantically.

I glanced at my watch. I didn’t know how he would take the news, and I was impatient to get this over with.

A sound like marbles spilling on to the sidewalk and shouts of fright had me stepping closer to the window. Trees were whipping side to side in Central Park, and pedestrians ran for cover as a summer rain gave way to hail the size of golf balls.

Ugh. I pictured myself, glum and wet, trudging home after the break up. Could this day get any worse?

I leaned on the window with my hands on the glass to watch the change in weather. The golf ball-sized hail grew to baseballs. One hit a no parking sign and dented the metal. The surreal summer phenomenon turned into a full attack from the sky.

Steam streaked behind the falling ice crystals as they melted in the warm air. I stood frozen in amazement with the streetwalkers who crowded under the Pierre’s awning, watching the eerie scene unfold.

A flash of color made me look down the sidewalk. Matthew was running with his hands covering his head. There were no awnings or doorways where he could escape. He winced with each blow of hail as he struggled to make it to the Pierre and safety.

“Matthew!” Startled, I moved along the window to get a clearer view.

He did an odd dance from side to side, attempting to avoid the battling hail. Each movement somehow brought him in line with another bullet of ice. I watched with concern as he was pierced with drop after drop.

I gasped when a chunk of hail the size of a watermelon bashed him across the face and knocked him down outside the Pierre. I pushed through the doors and ran to him.

I yelled out in pain as cold and hard hail pelted me. The sky darkened, and the hail storm intensified as I got closer to Matthew. The strange thing was, for all the chunks of hail that hit me, four times as many landed on Matthew, like the sky was using him as target practice.

I could see a gash across his cheek that spilled blood down his face. “Someone help!” I shouted. Matthew was barely conscious. As the hail continued to pound on us, I worked against the storm to focus and to analyze his body.

The damage was horrific. Deep wounds pockmarked his skin. It looked like he had stepped into a war zone instead of a rain storm.

“Matt, look at me. Stay with me,” I begged, holding his face in my hands. His eyes remained shut.

“No, no, no, no!” I freaked out. I was reminded of my best friend Johnny’s last moments before he was hit by a train. Was Matthew going to die?

Matthew stirred, but it wasn’t his body that moved. Shocked at the odd change to what I could only explain as his aura, I pulled my hands back. It was like he glowed or shimmered. Whatever it was, it intensified and then began to pull away from him.

I didn’t understand what was happening, but I knew it meant the end of sweet, kind Matthew. I might have been planning to break up with him, but I didn’t want him to die. I refused to let him go so easily.

As if the sky believed the battle was over, the hail lightened into a drizzle. It dripped down my face with the tears.

Instinctively, I reached out and grabbed at the shimmering substance. I thought the glow would slip through my fingers, but it felt solid in my hand. Instead of a misty substance, I could feel it tugging to get away.

I used my other hand and held on. None of it made sense, but I wasn’t going to let Matthew leave the physical world like this. The resistance was strong. Using all my might, I dragged the shimmering substance back to Matthew’s limp body. With one last effort, I pushed the essence back into Matthew.

His eyes fluttered open in that instant. “Jules,” he said in a raspy voice. I couldn’t believe it. His spirit and his body were back together. He hadn’t left me yet.

I looked at his fingers that I had interlocked with mine. Our feelings for each other were not equal, and soon I would have to address it. Just not today.

“Someone call 9-1-1!” I wailed to the crowd that had formed around us.

Someone kneeled on the ground next to me. “Is he okay?”

I looked up. As if the weather was mocking me, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. “He’s alive,” I told him. The heaviness of the statement shook me to the core, because just a minute ago he was dead.

Chapter Two: Hiding in the Shadows

I didn’t look up from the smartphone in my hand as a twig crunched under my Converse; my other hand was in the pocket of my jeans, pressed against my body to keep warm. I was studying a picture of a young man with dark features. He stared at me from under deep brows and closed lips tipped up in a smile like he knew a secret.

The man was my biological father, Ryan Stone. I never met him. He died before I was born, and no one had seen his spirit until the end of last semester when he was spotted outside Vita Post Mortem Academy grounds.

Despite being early morning in July, there was a slight chill in the air. As a visumary, it was second nature to correlate cold air to spirits being present. I had thought about weather often over the last few days. It was no longer just a description for my surroundings. Weather had become a calculating and conscious being, a bully, an assailant. It made me angry, thinking it could decide to end the life of someone close to me.

I got past the anger when I realized weather wasn’t a conscious being. It was controlled by some spirit…and that person had tried to kill Matthew. But why?

I comforted myself by remembering how I dealt with the tormentor. Conjuring a hailstorm was a rare talent, but whoever was controlling the weather wasn’t going to push me aside; I had made sure of that when I saved Matthew’s life.

Central Park on early summer mornings was one of my favorite places to think, and I didn’t care if I was in the presence of spirits. A cold breeze in the morning was no different than a hailstorm. No one was going to harass my friends or me.

I continued to analyze the situation as I walked. Saving Matthew made me proud, but there was one tiny negating detail that irked me: the visumary paramedics had asked everyone what happened, and not a single person said they saw me grab Matthew’s spirit and insert it back in his body. How was that possible?

It could have been that the onlookers were all ableptic and couldn’t see his shimmering essence, but it was unlikely. We were outside the headquarters for the Department of Incorporeal Beings. Not a single visumary saw me do it?

No, there were visumaries who saw me, but something told me they had a hard time believing it. Did they convince themselves that Matthew’s spirit never separated from his body, but instead he fought to stay alive? Even Matthew’s description didn’t help my case: he said he was in so much pain that he didn’t remember any of it.

I didn’t tell him what really happened…but I knew the truth. I remembered holding on to his aura and not letting go. I would not forget the way it fought against me. I was positive he was dead, and I forced him back to life.

Why wouldn’t people acknowledge it? Was being able to grasp a spirit and force it back into a body not a common visumary ability? I had to admit, it sounded creepy, and I was too afraid to ask anyone.

A rustle in the trees made me glance up. Through the curtain of my wavy brown hair, I thought I saw a face pass in front of me.

I brushed my hair behind my ear and surveyed my surroundings. I stood in a wooded area in the small valley of two hills connected by a bridge. The structure had a dull lamp that caused the railings to cast long shadows along the ground.

There was no visible person in front of me, but that didn’t mean a spirit wasn’t there. It didn’t take long after finding out I was a visumary to understand that.

It was a year ago that my best friend, Johnny, died, which set off a series of odd events in my life. A vengeful and powerful spirit named Machiavelli was out to kill me. When he attempted to possess Johnny and I intervened, we caused a Manhattan blackout. The mayor believed it was a sign that Machiavelli’s reign of terror was about to happen again and insisted my parents confess they weren’t my real parents. I was shocked, and needless to say, my spirit learning curve was steep.

Fog crawled along the path and goose bumps appeared on my skin as branches rustled for a third time. This time I spun around.

A spirit with piercing dark eyes hovered a few feet from me. “Dad?” I asked without thinking.

He didn’t answer my question, but his eyes narrowed.

I didn’t dare to breathe. I knew he was my father. The man I had been researching since the end of school was standing in front of me.

I had a million questions. Where had he been since he died fifteen years ago? Was he the one who told Machiavelli that I was a twin? Did he care for me at all?

He moved closer and the wind picked up around his cloak of the Grimm. The fog swirled in small circles and passing clouds hid the rising sun.

He stopped moving and the air was still. It was too still, like he sucked the life out of everything. “Juliandra.”

He said my name without feeling or question. It was only a statement of fact. He stared with an intensity that was either deep love for a lost child or a wild hunger for something else.

“Remember, secrets can be a powerful tool,” he warned. Confused, I wasn’t sure if he was threatening or advising me.

I didn’t know how to respond, and after a pause, my name echoed.

I stiffened. It wasn’t the sound of my father’s voice reverberating off the valley walls or in the tunnel under the bridge. The voices varied in pitch and tenor.

My heartbeat sped up. I gasped as I turned in a circle and realized we weren’t alone. A repulsive group of dead beings that resembled spirits surrounded us. Most were not wearing the black cloak of the Grimm. Their battered clothes and faces showed decay.

“Why are they here?” I asked my father.

The circle of grotesque creatures edged closer to us, moving in a creepy, disturbed, zombie-like fashion. Ryan eyed them with suspicion, but didn’t respond.

Most of the shades had a savage look to them. They might have once been functioning, relatable people or spirits, but now they were darkened shadows that didn’t remember what it felt like to be human.

Now was not the time to reconnect with my father. I wasn’t safe. I needed to think fast and get away from the unstable group.

I didn’t have time to assess how strong the shadows might be. I had to run through them without being stopped. However, if even one of them had enough power to conjure wind, lightning, or a physical object, I might not make it. I took my chances.

Chapter Three: Spirit of Summer

Luck was on my side when I burst through the circle of evil spirits and up the hill. I was a fast runner and managed to push through their weak spots, but it was difficult to catch my breath when spirits cold as ice passed through my lungs. Most of the shades and shadows were useless whiffs of air that were far removed from the living versions of themselves, but a handful of ragged shadows shot after me.

One bony-looking spirit, wearing an antagonistic grin, was hot on my trail. I felt the chilled brush of his ripped, sorry excuse for a shirt as he reached out to grab me. I sucked in a breath as I made a tight turn around a cherry blossom tree. He retorted with a gargling noise that was supposed to be a chuckle, like this chase was a game. If I weren’t afraid for my safety, I would have reprimanded him for laughing at my expense.

I followed the bike path until I reached the bridge. The sun was peeking through the clouds, and I felt safer in the daylight. At the top, I looked back into the valley at my father who hadn’t moved an inch. Besides lifting his chin, he made no inclination that he had anything else to say. He flickered in and out of sight before disappearing.

“Jules!” a familiar voice shouted. I swiveled in every direction, checking my surroundings. The sound of another living person had an immediate effect on the remaining ruffians. Realizing I wasn’t alone, the shadows dissipated and dissolved.

“I’m right here, Matthew.” Relief was apparent in my voice despite being out of breath. For the first time in weeks, I was happy that Matthew made a point each day to find me in the park and walk me to the Pierre for my internship.

The rest of the clouds passed the sun, and light drenched the area. The last of the thugs were gone. Matthew came bounding over the bridge. If he didn’t catch the relief in my voice, one look at my face told him something happened.

“What’s wrong, Jules?” He reached out and touched my chin. His eyebrows pulled together in concern.

I hesitated. Any other girl would love his attentiveness. It dug at my gut that I didn’t want to share my world with him. If I was honest, it wasn’t just the gooey, happy couple feelings that I didn’t have. I felt uncomfortable sharing my personal thoughts with him because I knew Matthew wouldn’t understand.

“Nothing.” I shook my head, running my fingers through my hair as I took a few steps back.

“It doesn’t seem like nothing,” Matthew insisted. He reached out and grabbed my hand to comfort me. The action reminded me of when I linked our fingers after saving his spirit from drifting away, an action that made me feel connected to him by its very strangeness. Whether it was rational or not, my brain told me that I couldn’t block Matthew out. It wasn’t fair after bringing him back to life.

“I saw my Dad,” I confessed, biting my lower lip. It was hard to explain what seeing my father meant to me. It felt surreal, and I wasn’t sure I would sound sane when I tried to explain it.

“Jules−” He pulled me into one of his classic bear hugs. Other girls would melt in his protective arms, but I couldn’t help feeling annoyed that a hug was his solution to everything. “No wonder you are upset. You have been missing a father figure in your life.”

That wasn’t true. The Joneses have always treated me like a daughter, but I didn’t correct him. It would only lead to more pity instead of understanding.

“Are you sure it was your father? You have been spending a lot of time researching him. Maybe you only thought it was him?” he asked in a soft tone, like he was trying not to upset a child.

“No, it was him,” I confirmed with more of an edge to my voice than I planned on. “He recognized me, too. He said my name.”

“And then what happened?” he asked, ignoring my moody tone, like he often had to.

“Shades and shadows surrounded us, repeating my name.” I took a deep breath before I looked up at him and forced a smile. “And then you showed up, and they all went away.”

Matthew returned my smile and puffed out his chest. “Looks like I scared away the bad guys,” he responded, pleased by my response. He wrapped his arm around my waist. “Come on, I’ll walk you to work.”

Matthew kissed me goodbye as we stood on the black and white checkered tiles in the Pierre’s lobby. “Have a good day,” he wished me. I felt relieved to be separated from him when the elevator doors closed.

I entered the security code for the penthouse and the door unlocked. Filled with government employees, the apartment buzzed with activity,

Other than at school, the penthouse was one of the few places where I saw equal numbers of living and dead people. Two men walked down the hall deep in conversation about the nation’s cyber security. One wore a clean cut modern suit, and the other had a dark, pointy beard, something he once told me was common during the Renaissance.

On the couch, I heard two women debating foreign policy in the Middle East. One of them adjusted her petticoat, which slipped out from under her cloak of the Grimm, while the other took notes on her smartphone. Samurai with swords still poking through their chests, cowboys with coyote bites pockmarking their faces, and living, suit-wearing government employees worked together in one New York City historic building. Odd and overwhelming the first day, it was now routine. Death was ignored, and time didn’t matter.

I closed the apartment’s door, and when I turned around Ryder Hastings was standing there. He gave me his charming smile, and my morning’s worries vanished, along with the feeling in my knees and my ability to string together full sentences.

“Jules, you’re here,” he announced, like he’d spent the morning waiting for my arrival. My heart soared without my permission.

Ryder was the person who introduced me to the visumary world. He acted as a mentor a year ago, calming my nerves about being an outcast and preparing me for the cliques and drama at Vita Post Mortem Academy.

Now he wrapped his arm around my shoulders, like he was greeting his kid sister. I tried to check my disappointment, and instead focused on the warmth of his muscular arm. Ryder was never going to return my crush.

“I’m glad to see you, too. I have something to tell you.” I recounted my run-in with my father, giving more details than I had with Matthew. It had always been easy to open my heart to Ryder.

He nodded as he digested the information. He didn’t question me, or tell me I was imagining things. He didn’t look at me with pity, or worse, give me a hug. “I’m going to share your story with the mayor and Lady Winklevoss, if you don’t mind.”

I shrugged my shoulders, attempting to act nonchalant, but I was secretly elated that he found it important enough to inform officials. Ryder worked for the Department of Incorporeal Beings as the link between the school and the government.

“Steer clear of the park in the early morning, would you?” I heard the brotherly concern in his voice.

“Fine,” I agreed, succumbing to the bratty little sister I turned into when I was with him.

He walked with me to the desk I had occupied for the last few weeks. It faced a wall in the corner of the room. Small tokens of my life were scattered on the surface. Two pictures were pinned to the cork wall, one of me and my best friends, Dahlia and Logan, in Viscus-red Vita Post Mortem Academy sweaters, and another with the family I grew up with, the Joneses.

Tucked into the corner was a ticket stub from the night Johnny died. I had a habit of kissing my fingers and touching it before I started my day.

“It’s my turn to share,” Ryder informed me as he pulled out my chair for me and opened the laptop on my desk. “Your mother has done something that Lady Winklevoss isn’t happy about.” I groaned as I sat down.

My biological mother, Nashara Winklevoss, was the host of a television show where she communicated with spirits, helping the ableptic heal wounds and find closure after the death of a loved one. Her passion for theatrics had found a focus after her broken relationship with my father, Ryan Stone. He almost convinced her to die for Machiavelli during his last reign of terror. My mother faltered when she realized it would mean killing the twins growing inside her. She begged Lady Winklevoss—her mother, my grandmother—to help, who thwarted Machiavelli’s rise to power. Now Nashara was a well-known television personality.

“What is it?” I asked, preparing myself for one of Nashara’s sensational pleas for attention.

“She started a video blog and threatened to expose personal stories about the visumary community,” he explained.

“Does Sharpée know?” Sharpée was my headstrong twin sister. She disapproved of most things our mother did.

“Yes, Sharpée has already seen it.” His solemn look hinted Sharpée was not pleased. He pressed a button, and the computer sprang to life. I adjusted my seat for what I was about to see.

Chapter Four: A Promise of Secrets

The screen showed blonde Nashara Winklevoss lounging on a charcoal gray couch, her right leg crossed over her left. Her black stiletto bounced idly, and her left arm draped over the back of the cushion.

She took a deep breath and stared off into the distance, like she was gathering her thoughts. “I don’t remember the first time I communicated with spirits. I didn’t wake up and try it one day, or learn the skill, like riding a bike.

“It wasn’t a sudden discovery, but rather an understanding over time.” She looked into the camera and gave an apologetic look. “I was born this way.”

It was quite a statement. Was she asking the public to believe her ability was more than just an act for television? She already used her viewers’ interest in the afterlife for fame and notoriety. Was she insinuating this special skill was not something she would have chosen? I looked up at Ryder, skepticism of her intentions written on my face. “Keep watching,” he instructed.

Nashara chuckled. “When I was a child, a frail woman sat in a rocking chair in the corner of my room, knitting and humming German nursery songs every night. She was kind and comforting…and dead.” She paused to let the last word sink in.

“Old Nan watched out for Winklevoss children for over three hundred years. I didn’t realize having a deceased relative present in my life wasn’t a common occurrence.”

The visual she painted was bizarre and unlike my childhood. I kept my eyes on the screen this time, instead of showing Ryder my emotions. Despite being my friend and confidant now, our childhoods were very different. Ryder’s upbringing in the Hastings household was similar to Nashara’s. He went for walks every Tuesday morning with his great-great-great-uncle Dash, who was a steel tycoon in the eighteen-hundreds before he died of dysentery. It was hard to relate to those kinds of childhood experiences.

Visumary families aside, I imagined her ableptic fans were listening to the story and feeling the same as I felt. Nashara’s life was foreign to most of the population. She actually did speak to the spirits of deceased loved ones on her show, but most people thought it was staged. She didn’t mention her personal life in front of the camera. Her video was going to be a shock for the ableptic and visumary communities. As far as I knew, no other visumary had gone public with their spirit experiences.

Comfortable in front of the camera, Nashara paused to take a sip of water from a glass on the coffee table in front of her. She had a keen sense of timing. She knew she had already hooked her audience. “I remember finding out not everyone could see spirits. That was an interesting surprise.”

She smiled at the memory. “It was around age eight, which I know sounds late, but until then I was homeschooled and had only known my family and a select group of friends.

“On the day I found out, I had spent the afternoon playing in my grandfather’s study. He was a jovial man, who liked chewy lemon candies and card games. I wasn’t scared of doing something he didn’t approve of because I rarely heard him raise his voice.

“I was a new and voracious reader, so when I came upon a large brown book in a hidden drawer, I opened it up and devoured the pages. Hours passed before my grandfather found me. I will never forget his shock when he did.

“He scooped the book out of my hands and reprimanded me for my actions. He said the book was filled with other’s secrets, and they weren’t mine to read.

“Aha!” She threw up her pointer finger. “He used the magic word: secrets! As a curious eight year old, I peppered him with questions, ignoring his anger, because I wanted to know more.

“He knew I wasn’t going to give up. With a great sigh, he sat down and let me ask my questions. First on my list, what was this book?

“He explained it was a collection of personal histories that dated back from before I was born. I remember nodding as if this made perfect sense.”

I gasped. She had stumbled upon the original Inter-Spiritual Database, which is now a system managed by the United States Chief Intelligence Agency. It began as a business endeavor when my great-grandfather and Ryder’s great-grandfather set off to solve unanswered questions of the past.

“‘Who is the King of the Dreaded?’ I asked, and my grandfather stiffened. I had read the most gruesome chapter of all,” Nashara explained.

She took another sip of water. “The chapter detailed the rise to power of an evil spirit, named…Niccolò Machiavelli.” She said his name in a chilling whisper.

“Many of you know him as the author of the sixteenth century political treatise called The Prince in which he preaches ‘the ends justify the means.’ He put those horrible words into action in his afterlife.

Nashara clasped her hands like she was begging. “My friends, kind people who are unable to communicate with spirits, you need to know he is the reason for most of the world’s natural disasters. He is the cause of financial crises and social unrest. He was involved in every calamity from the Great Depression to the supposed accidental death of James Dean to Hurricane Sandy’s wrath in the northeast. Destruction is his fear tactic, and he uses it to create his Shadow Followers.

“As an eight year old, I read about his abuse of innocent people who could not see spirits, those most susceptible to his nefarious plots. Those times when terrible things happen to good people, and you thought it was by chance? Machiavelli may have been the reason for their bad break, rotten luck and setback.

“I asked my grandfather, why can’t everyone see spirits? He shrugged his broad shoulders and cuddled me on to his lap. He told me that’s just the way things were, and with our special gift of communication with spirits, it was our duty to protect the others.”

Nashara sat up and looked into the camera. “I plan to uphold my duty. Knowledge is power, and that’s why I am creating these blogs. This isn’t a ploy for television ratings. This isn’t a joke or a game. There are truths about Machiavelli that must be told. He is gaining power, and you must defend yourself.

“Trust keeps us sane, but secrets break down trust. My family has a checkered past, and in order to maintain your trust, I will share everything I know in this video blog.” She didn’t formally end her video, but the screen went blank, signaling it was over. It reminded me of a preview for a horror movie, promising ominous future tall tales and gruesome nightmares.

Ryder looked at me with raised eyebrows, waiting for my reaction. The video was grim and perhaps not the best way to introduce the idea of spirits to the rest of the world. I’m sure there were already visumaries working hard to offset the negative press resulting from this video. However, this was Nashara Winklevoss. People should have been used to her antics by now.

I wasn’t concerned with the clean-up; I was interested in her departing comments. “What did she mean by her family has a checkered past?” As much as I wanted to believe I was a Jones, biologically, I was a Winklevoss.

“I don’t know,” Ryder hedged. I was positive he had an idea, but wasn’t planning to share. “The fact that Nashara is telling the ableptic world that an evil spirit is gaining power is enough to cause a panic. The Department of Incorporeal Beings spends time and money protecting the public from the secret of spirits. They can’t see them, and when people can’t see things, they imagine the worst. Nashara is threatening everything we do to protect the public.”

I nodded and gave him a solemn look. He would be one of those government officials logging extra hours to mitigate the hysteria that would surely result from Nashara’s video blog. Even though I wasn’t convinced he didn’t know the other secrets Nashara might reveal, I didn’t press him. In a silly way, I was thrilled he was venting. His rant proved I was someone he felt comfortable sharing his frustrations with, and I didn’t want to ruin it.

Ryder adjusted his tie, attempting to be the government official instead of a complaining friend. “As her daughter, I thought you should be aware. People are going to bring it up, and I would feel bad if you were caught off guard, especially when you go back to school,” he explained.

“Thanks,” I replied, hoping Nashara’s over-share didn’t turn into a big deal and all was forgotten by the time I got to Vita Post Mortem Academy in a month. He gave me the smile that promised everything was going to be all right.

Chapter Five: The High Spirit Advisory Council

As Ryder predicted, I had to endure extra stares in the days following Nashara’s video blog post. Add to that the haunted chills I felt whenever I thought of the run-in with my dad, and the sad fact that I hadn’t broken up with Matthew, and I was feeling pretty down. My face was an inch from my laptop screen when Ryder came up behind me. “Do you want to attend the High Spirit Advisory Council meeting with me?” he asked, no doubt trying to lift my mood.

My head hurt from scowling at tiny font. I used the heel of my hand to rub the skin above my eyebrows. I was logged into the Inter-Spiritual Database, scouring for knowledge on Ryan Stone and the Winklevoss family. The ISDB was the latest evolution of the book Nashara mentioned in her video blog. A quarter of a century ago, my grandmother insisted the CIA take over control of the entries. While it still held personal histories collected by my great-grandfather, it was also updated with new information from social media applications like the popular game at Vita Post Mortem Academy, PhantomFollow. Unfortunately, there was no way to enlarge the font on the old program, so all this information was a pain—literally—to read.

There was barely any information on Ryan. He was not born into a well-known visumary family. In fact, the Stone family didn’t have a history of seeing spirits until my father was born. He was a charity student at Vita Post Mortem Academy a year behind Nashara Winklevoss. The database documented his years of attendance at school, a few minor awards from a school club called the Meteorologists, and his date of death. That was it.

On the other hand, there was so much Winklevoss information that I didn’t know where to start. I was related to philosophers like Aristotle and celebrities like Lucille Ball. Relatives were involved at critical points in history, like the Treaty of Versailles and the fall of the Berlin Wall. I picked through stories at random, hoping to find the needle in the haystack, a clue that would warn me about Nashara’s next post.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Alana (Siegel) Mag is the author of the Olivia Hart and the Gifted Program book series, which includes The Charm (#1), The Retreat (#2), and The Rescue (#3), and the (after)life lessons book series, which includes The Light of Supremazia (#1). She grew up on Long Island in New York and graduated with a B.A. from the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University. Alana currently lives in San Francisco, California, with her husband and two ragamuffin cats named Zeus and Thor.

Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
I am a voracious magical realism and romance reader. I revel in my escape to Hogwarts, Forks, Camp Halfblood, District 12, the Seven Kingdoms, Middle-earth, Command School, Brooklyn House or Longbourn, and I love to get lost in the drama and adventure with characters who feel like old friends.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
The close of a delicious and enjoyable book leaves me glum and wanting more, whereas, writing transports me headfirst into my imagination. One of the few ways to satiate my hunger for an entertaining story is to write my own, and sharing those stories keeps the action and characters alive.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
(after)life lessons is a coming-of-age book series. Jules Winklevoss, the main character, faces obstacles that are fantasy-driven as well as relatable. She relies on her courage, wit, and friendships to overcome obstacles in a roller-coaster adventure of high school drama and evil spirits.

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Romance
A Dark Night on Oak Lane
In the blink of an eye life changes
Frozen Panic
This time, she won't take "No" for an answer.
Between Love and Fear
Will protecting her save him from himself?