Sneak Peek: When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

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A teenage girl calls her beloved older brother back from the grave, with disastrous consequences….

RUBY
Haunted by her dead brother, unable to let him go, Ruby must figure out whether his nightly appearances in her dreams are the answer to her prayers—or a nightmare come true.

EVERETT
He’s always been jealous of his dashing older brother. Now Everett must do everything he can to save his twin sister Ruby from his clutches.

DASHIELL
Charming, handsome, and manipulative, Dash has run afoul of some very powerful forces in the Land of the Dead. His only bargaining chips are Ruby and Everett. At stake is the very survival of the Bohnacker family, bodies and souls….

When I Cast Your Shadow will become available September 12th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

Ruby

There it is again: in the middle of the black river a pale arm sweeps up and then curves down with a splash. Someone is swimming out there and I know with all my heart who it must be. “Dashiell?” I say, but my voice clings in the nearby air. He doesn’t hear me.

I’ve been here before, I think. Only once or twice, and never for longer than it took to catch the first glimpse of his back, wandering far away from me along the shore. It’s always so dark here, the river so viscous and slow, its surface shoving in jellied wrinkles at the stones. But this time nothing happens to pull me away from this place and I see him again and again: the broad line of his shoulders parting the water, his face like a blurry moon.

“Dashiell!” I call. “It’s me, it’s your Ruby-Ru! Please come back.”

And thank God, he must hear me now, because he laughs—I’d know that laugh anywhere—and rolls onto his back. I can see the pale arch of his bare chest, his streaming arms. He’s still far away but the sound waves must have shifted somehow, because I can hear every tiny stir of his feet in the water.

“You shouldn’t be swimming out there, should you, Dash? That water doesn’t look healthy.” I know there’s something I have to explain to him, that it’s urgent, but I can’t think of the right way to put it. “Dash, I think you don’t understand? This is a really unusual opportunity for you. I mean, people don’t just get chances to come back to life? And if you keep taking so many risks, it might seem like you don’t appreciate it.”

The shape of his body shifts into an arrowhead; he’s traveling away from me. My throat thickens at the sight.

“If you want me to get a second chance, Ruby Slippers, then you’re going to have to come to me. Swim out here and we’ll discuss it.”

That water looks so sickening though somber and gluey. “No! Dash, please come back here. Please don’t do anything crazy. I don’t think you understand how much we’ve missed you. And now—you have this chance, and you won’t even listen to me!”

How can I find the words for what’s happening to him? Dashiell died, that much I’m sure of, and now by some wild, sweet, improbable fluke he can have one more try at being alive—if he’ll only care enough to take it. I don’t know how I know that, but the truth of it is diamond-hard and sharp inside my chest. Out of all the people in the world who’ve ever died and been mourned, of course Dashiell would be the one who gets such an incredible opportunity. But how do I make him take it seriously?

“It wasn’t fair, Dash. The way you died. It was a mistake and it wasn’t fair to anyone, and maybe that’s why—”

“Oh, pah, Ruby-Ru. You can’t still be such a child, can you, that you’d suppose fairness could come crawling into a place like this? Swim out to me, and I can explain things to you without shouting.”

No one is shouting. He’s so far in the distance that I can barely make out the disturbance of his rising arms, but we can hear each other perfectly. I can feel him smiling at me across the water, and I don’t know why I’m so afraid, why my heart tumbles featherlight inside me.

“Why can’t you come to me? You don’t know what it’s been like, Dash. Without you. It’s like—everything I thought was solid is hollowed out.”

Everyone in our family is afraid of everything; I can feel Dash thinking that. I can feel him thinking that I’m just like our father, a man who was always cowering away from his own son, looking at his brilliant face with hunted eyes. Because the fire that was in Dash could burn anything, everything. But that never frightened me, and I won’t let Dash think it scares me now.

“If you really want me back,” Dash says, “you’re going to have to prove it, Miss Slippers. Come get me.”

With Dashiell you always have to prove everything, again and again, and nothing you can do is ever enough. You can’t just tell him you love him, because he’ll smile and play with your hair and say how absurd you are for thinking that words could be enough to make it true. I look at the black swirls inches from my feet, frilled with light shining from no moon.

“If I swim out there, then do you promise you’ll come home with me?”

The water coils with anticipation; it could be the grease exuded from daydreams gone bad. I take a step forward and it sucks at my shoes.

“Oh, Ru-Ru, of course I do. Come for me now, and I’ll follow you back like a little lost lamb. If you’d only been paying attention, you’d know that I’ve always been truthful with you.”

I always paid attention to him; how can he not know that? Whenever I saw him I’d concentrate as hard as I could, trying to memorize the exact shapes the sunlight made on his face, every nuance of his voice, because I always knew that someday we might lose him for good. The water is up past my ankles now, and my shadow on its surface looks like a hole. Waiting to take me in.

“You won’t believe the view out here, Ru-Ru. It’s distance like you’ve never seen it before! That much black, that much emptiness. Ah, the night sky when I was alive was positively middling by comparison.”

Something skids beneath my foot and I stumble in, thigh-deep now. That water will ruin my dress but I’m not about to take it off, not when Dashiell might see me. Besides, I can’t imagine what could be hidden under that slick surface: things shimmying and almost alive.

“Ah, and here we go. I knew I could count on you, sweetest Ru. But you should consider how severely our father would forbid you from doing any such thing. He’d say you should leave me where I am, and good riddance. You wouldn’t want to do anything he’d disapprove of, would you, Ruby Slippers?”

“Dad misses you, too,” I say. “He just pretends not to. Dashiell, we all want you to come home, so much. And I’m—” I’m coming for you, because I have to. Because you won’t give me any other choice, but it’s cruel of you to make me do this. I can’t say that, though. The water is at my throat now and I stumble forward, flailing. I can hear Dashiell’s harsh laugh. I know I have to kick—I’m usually an okay swimmer, even if I don’t look like I should be—but at first I can’t get my feet up to the surface.

“I can see our Earth!” Dashiell calls. “Still very far away, but it appears to be flying closer at precipitous speed. Do you realize, Ru-Ru, that everything I’m seeing now is coming from you? Left to our own devices, the dead can’t envision for beans.”

I’ve got the best rhythm going that I can, though I have to tug my arms free of the water at every stroke. I can’t tell if I’ve just left the shore, or if I’ve been swimming for hours. “Dash? I can’t see you anymore. Where—”

“Not so much farther now, Ruby-Ru. You’re doing just fine.”

All I see are the dark folds and my own hands struggling against them. But Dash’s voice still rings in both my ears; he could be inches away to either side, or right behind me.

“Dash? Wherever I go I keep thinking I’m about to see you, or that I’ve just missed you somehow. Like, that you got off the train one second before I got on, and I missed you in the crowd? Because it was so, so wrong what happened to you. You were going to be okay. You were clean.”

“Ah, but technically I’m much cleaner since I’ve been dead, Ru-Ru. There’s no clean like sloughing off your body completely, is there? If you bring me back now, I’ll be sullied again by the whole sticky mess of carnality, blood and guts and hunger and desire. If clean is what you want for me, you might reconsider. Death works better for that than shampoo.”

“But don’t you miss us?” I can’t tell if I’m moving forward anymore. I could be twisting in place, surrounded by night-colored walls. God, I’m going to sink before I find him. “Don’t you miss me?

Then I smack into something warm and slippery. Bare skin. I flush and try to jerk away, but Dashiell is there, his wavy strawberry-gold hair bright against the dimness. He’s gripping me hard by my wrists and smiling. And he’s completely naked.

“Poor little Ruby-Ru,” Dashiell lilts. His face is silvery-gold, as gorgeous as ever, but with something sickly in the way it shines. “You’ve been so brave, but you don’t grasp the consequences of your actions, do you? I’m sorry for what you’ll have to go through, now. I don’t suppose there’s anything I can say that will make this easier for you.”

And then I’m jolted out of myself, and I watch while Dashiell slides his hands to my shoulders. I watch while he shoves my head under the surface. The thrust catches me in the middle of an inhalation and water floods my throat before I know what’s happening. I feel the cold pouring into my lungs, and at the same time I observe it all from a distance: a dumpy sixteen-year-old girl kicking desperately below me.

I’m not really struggling that hard, though, and as I watch myself I know why: I don’t want to hurt him. Not my adored brother, not when he’s finally been returned to me. Not when he’s been through so much pain already.

“Ruby Slippers,” Dashiell muses while he drowns me. “She slipped under the rug, she disappeared from view. Oh, where have you gone, Ruby-Ru, Ruby-Ru?”

My dark blond hair boils on the surface. I can see my own fingers starting to go limp, wet white commas drifting on the black sea.

“Dashiell,” I say. “Dashiell, I love you so much! How could you do this to me?”

I don’t know if he’ll hear me. I don’t know if I have a voice anymore, or a face, or a heart. The girl I was is bobbing below the surface. Dashiell jiggles me up and down experimentally, checking to make sure I’m dead.

“How could I do this? Ah, Ru, what kind of a question is that?” Dashiell tips his head and smiles, thinking it over. “I did it because there’s no place like home.”

I’m awake, I’m awake, and those are not horrible black waves sticking to me but my drenched sheets. I’m awake and breath is heaving into my lungs. This is my pretty robin’s-egg blue bedroom in our pretty brownstone on Carroll Street, and Dashiell was buried almost two months ago, and even if I dream about him every single night it doesn’t change the fact that I stood on the sweating September grass and dropped dirt on his coffin while my knees buckled.

This dream felt different, though, and not only because it was so terrible. It was somehow much deeper than my usual nightmare: the recurring one where Dashiell sits on my bed holding a syringe, and I know that if he shoots up again he’ll die. In that dream I always know that we’re getting a miraculous chance to change what happened, because the way he died was just too stupid and senseless and he was way too young and talented and amazing. Then he smiles at me and shoves the syringe into his arm while I beg, Not this time, Dash, not again.

I’ve been waking up every morning gasping and sobbing, my hands thrashing at the air as I try to grab him, stop him, before it’s too late.

That nightmare is bad enough, but this was so much worse.

Because it felt like I had dreamed my way into a more powerful part of my mind. Because during the dream I completely believed it was real, and bringing Dash back to life was an actual possibility, and now I’m shivering from the memory of how an idea so absolutely insane felt so true. Because, no matter how bad my dreams get, Dashiell’s never murdered me in one of them before. And because I’m sick with myself: it’s awful of me, disloyal, to even dream about Dashiell doing anything so cruel.

I’m still clutching my blankets, trying to forget the sensation of those gummy waves closing around my head, so I don’t notice right away that my door is open.

Everett is standing there watching me. My twin. Darker hair and a big sloppy mouth instead of my small one, but basically the same degree of podgy, unattractive, and socially hopeless. We were IVF babies, meaning our parents really wanted one of us—they paid a whole heap of money to get one of us—but then after three years of doctors and hormone shots it turned out to be a twofer and they were stuck with more than they’d planned on. Considering that their first child six years earlier was Dashiell, so beautiful and enchanting from the moment he was born, it’s impossible to imagine that we didn’t come as a disappointment.

The strain proved to be too much for their marriage, though they were never tactless enough to tell us so in so many words. But one time when she was visiting New York I overheard our mother tell our dad that she’d felt stifled by living with him, or maybe with us. She even told me to my face once that we’d clarified her feelings for her, and helped her realize what she really wanted out of life, and somehow she expected me not to recognize what that meant: Not you, Ruby. Not you and your brother.

Or maybe she knew I’d get it, and she didn’t care that much. She’s one of those people who treats just being honest as an excuse for being hurtful.

Now she contrives to be so very far away, and having such a fabulous life, that no one could reasonably expect her to remember we exist. And she usually doesn’t.

“I heard you scream,” Everett says. “It was Dash again?”

“Dash,” I say. “Yeah. But it’s getting worse, Ever.”

“Every night? And I still haven’t dreamed about him once? It’s like he doesn’t even care about seeing me again. He only wants to talk to you.”

Suddenly I know I can’t tell Everett what Dashiell did to me. Maybe I know now that what happened wasn’t connected to reality, but what if Ever blames Dash anyway? “You don’t want these dreams. They’re horrible.”

“I do want them, though. I mean, I want something. Because—I know it’s not rational—but every night? Don’t you start to wonder sometimes if that’s really him? Like, if he’s trying to get a message to you?”

“Ever, these are dreams. As in, they are not real. As in, I’m talking to something in my head, but it is not actually Dashiell. I think it’s important for us to be clear about that?” I stare at him. “I can’t believe you’re making me say this.”

“Do you believe that?” Everett asks. “I mean, believe it for real? You’re not just trying to talk yourself into it?”

“I have to believe it! Ever, don’t—thinking like this will make us both go crazy!”

If I let myself believe in Dash’s dream-visit, if I imagine that his spirit truly came to me last night, then I would also have to believe in my own dream-murder. That’s a line I can’t cross. The real Dashiell wasn’t an easy person to deal with, and I’m not pretending he was, but he wouldn’t have done that.

Everybody else has always been way too ready to believe the worst about Dash, so that means it’s up to me to remember him the way he really was. To fight for his memory.

He seemed like he loved me, at least a little. Like, in direct proportion to how lovable I actually am. It wasn’t his fault that he got all the looks and glamour and charisma, so there was hardly any left over for Ever and me. It wasn’t Dashiell’s fault that he was the one who everybody wanted either to be or to sleep with. So since he was just inherently way more lovable than I am, it was natural that I loved him more than he was ever going to love me back. I didn’t have any problem with that then, and I don’t now.

It made sense. Everything made sense except the part where he OD’d six months after he kicked heroin.

Everett is still watching me. “It was just a dream, Ever,” I say again, and my voice comes out rough. “You’re supposed to be so realistic, remember? Superstitious stuff like this is totally beneath you. You are the last person who should start believing in ghosts. Right?”

“Fine,” he says, and turns his back on me. “At least I don’t read my stupid horoscope.” I get up and shut the door, just a little too hard.

I’m still mad at Everett for saying those things, actually, especially since he’s made it his job to be skeptical and detached all the time. So why did he have to let me down and start believing in something so utterly berserk—our dead brother coming to me in a dream, seriously?—and right at the moment when I have to pour all my strength into convincing myself there’s no way it could be true?

Dash wouldn’t hurt me. Not on purpose. Not like that. It’s a ridiculous idea.

When I’m showered and dressed, I pull on the cherry-red, patent leather Doc Martens Dashiell bought me the last time I saw him, just three days before he died. Ruby slippers for you, my sweet Ruby-Ru.

And I do it to remind myself of just how wonderful he really was.

Copyright © 2017 by Sarah Porter

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