Dead and quiet. Full of shadows.

Tick picked up his pace.

When he left the town behind him and started down the long road leading to his house, the creepiness increased. He couldn’t explain it, but Tick felt a constant chill in his bones, like something very big and very hungry watched him from the woods. He looked back and forth, scanning both sides of the road, but saw only the tall shadows of the trees, black on black. This time, Tick threw all reservations out the window and simply ran, resolving not to stop until he lay in his bed where he could cry himself to sleep.

As he jostled down the road, concentrating on his feet so he wouldn’t trip, Tick had to consciously ignore the feeling that an enormous ghost was right behind him, ready to tap him on the shoulder. Goose bumps broke out all over his body, slick with sweat. He kept running.

He made it to his neighborhood and finally to his house, not slowing until he reached the porch. He stopped, bending over with his hands on his knees as he gulped in air to catch his breath. He didn’t want to walk back inside panting like a chased dog. But then the feeling he’d had near the forest returned full force and he ran up the steps to the front door.

The handle rattled when he gripped it, but didn’t turn. Locked. He glanced at his watch where he could barely see it was just past eleven o’clock. Tick stepped back, looking for the first time at all the windows on the bottom floor. He should’ve noticed before—everything was dark, not a single light was on in the house. Yes, it was late, but his dad was supposed to be telling a very long story to his mom, so surely his parents were still up. They would stay up and watch for him, wouldn’t they?

Tick knew his dad kept a spare key to the house hidden in a fake rock placed behind the bushes. He walked back down the porch steps and searched for it, even getting down on his knees to feel around with his hands. But they came up empty, even after scouring the usual area several times.

He couldn’t find the key anywhere.

Tick sat back on his heels. What in the world?

Frustrated, Tick gave up and walked back to the front door, where he reluctantly pushed the doorbell.

A long moment passed. No one answered. Not a sound came from within the house. Tick, getting more worried by the second, pushed the doorbell again.

Still no response.

Finally, in a panic, he pushed the bell over and over again, hearing the loud ring through the wood of the door. He stopped when he heard a booming shout; it sounded like it came from one of the upstairs bedrooms. The shout was followed by a quick series of loud thumps—someone running down the stairs. Then the door jerked open, revealing a man Tick had never seen before in his life.

“What do you want!” the stranger screamed at the top of his lungs, spittle flying out of his mouth. The man was pale and sickly, so thin he looked like he’d crumble into a pile of sticks at any moment. His ruffled black hair stood up in patches on his head, his face covered in a scraggly beard. Dark, sleep-worn eyes stared at Tick, full of fire and anger. “Who are you, you little brat? What do you want?”

Tick felt a sick fear swell inside his stomach. “I’m . . . I’m . . . Atticus Higginbottom. I . . . I live here.”

“Live here? What are you, one of those no-good townies? Get out of here!” The man kicked out, missing Tick badly. “Get!” He slammed the door closed.

Tick, his world crashing down around him, turned and ran, the darkness weighing on his shoulders like black stone.

Edgar stood in the dark cemetery, his chest rising and falling with heavy breaths. He’d searched everywhere—behind every tombstone, tree, and bush in sight. He didn’t know how it could be possible, but what he’d seen from his hiding spot across the road must not have been a trick of his mind.

It had really happened.

What he’d seen had really happened.

Tick had disappeared. Like a Las Vegas magic show, Edgar’s only son had vanished from sight. There one second, gone the next. No smoke, no sound, nothing.

His son had disappeared.

Panicked, Edgar started searching all over again, even though he knew it was useless. Deep down inside, he tried to convince himself Tick was okay, that they’d known something like this would happen. This was what they’d been preparing for all along! Edgar told himself that Tick was safe now, in some other world or realm, learning how he could help save the lives that were depending on him. Where had all the good feelings about this whole mess gone to? He and Tick had devoted themselves to this cause, believing in its purpose.

But it hadn’t seemed real until the moment he’d seen his son vanish. And now Edgar didn’t know if he could ever forgive himself for letting Tick go. If something happened to his boy . . .

Dejected, a sinking weight of despair filling his stomach, Edgar finally gave up and headed for home. He was about to have a very long night explaining things to his wife.

Tick didn’t know what else to do—where else to go—except back to the cemetery. Something must have happened when he’d performed the ritual—something horrible. He’d messed it up somehow, sending him to the wrong place or time. He thought back to the crazy things Mr. Chu had told him about quantum physics. Where was he?

Once he left his neighborhood, he couldn’t run another step. He slowed to a walk, breathing heavily, constantly looking behind to make sure no one was following him—especially the creepy man who’d answered the door at his house.

It was a weird feeling to suddenly feel like the only place you’ve ever lived is no longer yours, occupied instead by some monster of a man willing to kick a little kid. Tick had run the gamut of emotions in the last hour—excitement that the special day was here, disappointment when seemingly nothing had happened, dejection and despair, panic and fear that his home wasn’t his home anymore. Now he just felt numb as he slowly made his way back to town. To the cemetery. It was the only place where he could hope to find some answers.

He tried to take in his surroundings as he walked, searching for signs that other things about his hometown were different than what he was used to. But the darkness was too great and all he saw were shadows hiding other shadows. He almost pulled out his flashlight, but thought better of it—who knew what lurked in this new nightmare. He wanted to remain as hidden as possible.

As he entered the town square for the third time that night, he realized the lack of lights couldn’t be a coincidence—the place was a haven for nothing but ghosts and ghouls. Where was he? What had happened to this place that should feel so familiar but instead seemed so alien? His heart hurting, his body exhausted, Tick picked up the pace again and quickly ran across the waterless fountain area and down the small road until he reached the entrance to the cemetery.