The Red Thread: A Novel in Three Incarnations (Richard Jackson Books (Atheneum Hardcover))

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9781416908944: The Red Thread: A Novel in Three Incarnations (Richard Jackson Books (Atheneum Hardcover))

How do you avenge -- or forgive -- your own murder four hundred years after it happened?

Prompted by recurrent dreams, sixteen-year-old Dana Landgrave uncovers an ancient crime that has drawn the same souls together through three lifetimes.

There's nothing sinister about the girl's sunlit twenty-first-century American life in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Yet, centuries ago, terrible things were done -- by someone she knows! Could it be her easygoing, easy-to-look-at boyfriend, Chase? Or her younger brother, Ben, who has been confined to a wheelchair since a school bus accident? What about Gianna, her inscrutable enemy on the yearbook staff? Or her eccentric psychotherapist, Dr. Sprague?

As Dana summons courage to reenter the past, each incarnation propels her to new discoveries -- and new suspicions -- until the threads of all three lives converge in a devastating revelation.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Roderick Townley's first book about Sylvie, The Great Good Thing, was a Top-Ten Book Sense Pick, praised by Kirkus Reviews as "utterly winning...a book beloved from the first page." Its sequel, Into the Labyrinth, was hailed by the New York Times as "a hopping fine read." The present volume completes the Sylvie cycle.

Mr. Townley has also published the novel Sky, described by VOYA as "one hell of a book," as well as volumes of poetry, nonfiction, and literary criticism. He has two children, Jesse and Grace, and is married to author Wyatt Townley.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: Another Day in Paradise

The space was narrow and dim and smelled of dead rat. Grit from the floor bit his forehead. Sticky warmth worked down his cheek.

He had a moment of panic when he realized he couldn't open his right eye. It was his own blood that sealed it. He ran his sleeve across his face. No good. He pried the lid open with his fingers. Was it night? Why was everything so dark?

He found himself panting as if he'd been running up a staircase. Then he realized it wasn't lack of air but fear that winded him.

Slow down. Breathe.

Still panting, he glanced around. Hemming him in were walls of unfinished wood, not the gleaming paneling of the great rooms and hallways. But light, faint as it was, reached him from somewhere. Then he saw it, a wedgelike opening four feet above the ground, where wood abruptly changed to stone rising in the gloom. If he could reach it!

Holding to the wall, the boy fought to make his legs support him. He swayed uncertainly. Just ten years old, he was not tall for his age and had to stand on tiptoe to see. Through the throbbing in his brain he heard echoing shouts and the clump of booted feet down corridors. He squinted at vague shapes. Steadying himself, he realized he was in the chapel, behind the new marble altarpiece.

Behind it? Suddenly he couldn't breathe again. How did I get here?

Dizziness buckled his legs, but he held on till his vision cleared. A flicker of light. Someone was on the other side of the altar! The candlelight grew brighter. The boy waited, breathless. There were so many people to be scared of these days. Then came a scraping sound, quite loud, quite near, of stone on stone. To his horror, he saw the opening grow an inch narrower, then another inch.

"No!" he cried, pushing back against the marble. But he was too weak, and the altarpiece kept edging back toward him.

"No!" His voice was louder now. "Stop!"

The scraping ceased.

A face appeared at the opening.

"Oh!" The boy sighed with relief, recognizing the pointed beard, dented forehead, and intense gaze he knew so well. "It's you!" His eyes blurred with gratitude. This was the person he trusted above everyone.

The man did not smile or speak. He turned to listen to the thumping of running feet, then moved away from the opening.

"What's the matter?" the boy called out. "What are you doing?"

The altarpiece shuddered and moved slightly, then slightly farther.

"No! The other way!"

The stone moved again. Only a sliver of light remained.

"Don't!" the boy wailed. "Please don't!" His legs failed him and he collapsed in the darkness.

The stone shrugged another inch.

"Not you!" he moaned. The salt of tears mingled with the coppery taste of blood. "Not you, too!"

A final shove, and the massive stone was set in place, leaving the boy in an insanity of blackness.

With a gasp Dana Landgrave lurched up from the pillow, her eyes staring. Her mouth was dry, her heart beating hard. It took a few seconds to realize where she was. Yes, there were the glowing numbers on her clock radio, the milky gleam of the night-light reflected in the glass eyes of her bear. A gentle half light filtered through the window. The curtain stirred. Dawn.

She swung out of bed, planting her feet on the cool floor. She wouldn't risk going back to sleep and dreaming the dream again. It had haunted her a dozen times this spring, but this was the worst. It was as if she were there. But where?

Nowhere. She'd made it up. The doctor had told her it was natural for teenagers to have fears, about life, death, sex, you name it. What Dana had managed to do was turn those fears into a place -- a place that she returned to, furnished, and made real.

So what was this altar business? What was that about?

Whatever it was, the dream kept coming back. And who was the boy? She shut her eyes, trying to think if she knew anyone like him. No one in her school, certainly. In other dreams, Dana had seen his face the way you'd see anyone, from the outside. This was much creepier. She'd felt him, as if she were thinking his thoughts.

The view from the window was obscured by mist, but Dana could hear the river. Its presence calmed her, vague, always flowing, always there, like a parent moving about a nursery. The dream had less of a hold on her when she looked outside. That was why she kept the window open at night -- to hear the slap of waves in the back channel and smell the seaweed. And it helped with her claustrophobia, which was getting worse. It gave her a way out.

She switched on the bedside lamp. Slipping a sweatshirt over her head and pulling on her jeans, Dana wiggled bare feet into her sneakers and stepped from the room, pausing to grab the camera and keys.

The hallway was dim, filled with the sounds of nearby sleepers. There were the soft gasps of her brother on his ventilator, and from down the hall the loud, decisive snorts of her mother. Not very feminine, Dana thought with a half smile. Her father's breathing was inaudible, as if, even asleep, he were listening for the others.

Dana made a quick bathroom stop, throwing water on her face and running her fingers through her hopelessly curly hair. She shot herself a glance. Not bad looking, certainly, but not exactly pretty. Character. That's what people said: Her face had character. Another way to put it was that, at almost seventeen, her nose was too strong and her forehead too high. Was she going bald or something? Dana sighed, giving her curls a shake. How did she ever get a boyfriend?

She headed down the stairs and out the kitchen door, her sneakers crunching on the gravel. The gray minivan stood under the carport like a faithful animal in its stall. Veils of mist trailed through the empty streets. It was almost six, the hour when she took some of her best pictures.

The bell began tolling in the North Church across town. It could almost be another century, another country. She would have liked that. Fiddling with the camera, she turned a corner and stopped with a gasp. The boy from the dream! All the horror returned, his face staring out at her from a wedge of shadow between houses. She could even make out a line of blood threading his cheekbone! Instinctively she raised the camera and pressed the shutter, not even looking through the range finder, then shot again as she zoomed in close.

She glanced at the image she'd captured. What? she thought, and laughed. It was a white cardboard box tied with red string atop a trash can.

Was that her problem, an overactive imagination? Or was she hallucinating? Was she mentally ill?

Spotting an orange tabby crossing the cobblestones near Mechanic Street, Dana dropped to the ground, shooting as she went, and among many wasted shots captured one of the cat, at cat level, its paw raised, silhouetted against the glistening cobbles. Thank God for digital, Dana thought. If an image didn't work, you could just delete it, or edit it on the computer. A different world from her dad's clunky 35-millimeter, although she used that, too.

She ducked through an alley, peering up at the sharpening shadows of one building against the bricks of another, and the sky beyond, crossed now by two gulls. If it weren't for the photography elective, Dana didn't know how she'd get through eleventh grade. She still might not. Finals were two weeks away. She wouldn't have said it to anyone, but in a strange way she didn't believe in school -- that world of grades and rules. It didn't seem real.

She made her way among the eighteenth-century houses near the quaintly spelled Strawbery Banke Museum and emerged on Court Street. A car honked and she jumped back to the curb. The town was getting itself in gear; she'd have

to hurry if she wanted to change, eat, and get Ben ready. Returning to her house (nothing quaint about that old white saltbox off Marcy Street), Dana grabbed the newspaper and took the front steps two at a time, her camera swinging from her neck. Her parents were already in the breakfast room. They looked up as she breezed through, flopping the Portsmouth Herald on the table as she passed.

"Thanks, Button," said her dad, throwing her a smile. He was leaning back in his chair, holding his coffee mug against his chest.

"Dana?" her mother called.

"What, Ma?" She paused on the steps.

"Are you all right?" Her quick green eyes held an emphasis her daughter was meant to get.

"Sure!" Dana said in her flip way, but she knew what her mother meant: Is that why you needed to go out this morning? Did you have those dreams again?

"Well," said Mrs. Landgrave, "I'll fix you an egg."

"Okay."

"Tell Ben his oatmeal is ready. Oh, and don't forget," her mother called after her, "you see the doctor this afternoon."

Dana burst into Ben's room to find her brother already sitting up, looking at his collection of early English coins. On the wall behind him were pictures of coats of arms, printed out from the Internet. Ben was heavily into heraldry these days, as well as being a computer whiz.

He gave her a sour look. "Thanks for the help," he said in his whispery voice. He'd managed to disconnect the tracheotomy tube -- the "trake" as he called it -- and plug the stopper in the small plastic opening in his neck so he could talk. The machine was only for nighttime, to regulate his breathing when he wasn't conscious. Soon he'd be weaned off it altogether. He was one lucky eleven-year-old, as his father often and irritatingly told him. If the fracture had been two vertebrae higher, he wouldn't be able to breathe on his own. Not to mention his other bodily functions.

Dana helped him into the wheelchair.

"Any good pictures?"

She swept the camera off her neck and went over to him. "Take a look."

Ben could raise his arms if he had to, but they were weak, so his sister held the camera and went through the shots.

He grunted.

"You don't like them?"

"Didn't say that." His...

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