Seventeen year old Riley is a smart, tattooed loner who’s learned to survive in the foster care system. Nothing in her life could have prepared her for what she encounters at her newest home with Eloise Nobody.
This home is full of mysteries entangled in other-worldly dimensions more unforgiving than her own. What is Riley’s connection to the small creature held hostage in one of the rooms?
Enter the world of Nobody’s Clan–a group of foster teens reformed under the care of Eloise and transported to a parallel realm known as the Brim.
Once Riley embarks on the journey, there will be no turning back. Fate had chosen her and she must take a stand– even if that means losing Lorenzo, a member of the Clan with whom she’s joined her heart.
I crept along the dark hallway like a moth strangely attracted to the yellowish glow coming from beneath the door. It was the middle of the night and everyone should be asleep according to Mrs. Nobody’s rules.
I couldn’t sleep though, and the mystery of the forbidden wing seemed to beckon my presence. Perhaps I should be frightened by the strange light, but my curiosity was stronger than fear.
The very house seemed to echo my nervous, shallow breath as I crept closer to the door. I placed my hand on the door knob. It was warm under my touch and seemed to respond easily to turning.
I peeked through the door crack into the room, but couldn’t see the source of the light. With a quick glance around the hall one last time, I entered the room.
There was moisture clinging to the faded wallpaper in droplets that seeped down the walls. Curiously, vines seemed to grow from the ground to fade out of sight as they met the ceiling. Pots of beautiful flowers in bloom were planted throughout the room. The sweet smell of the blossoms brought a sudden, nauseated feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I swallowed hard and made my way over to what I thought was carpet, but turned out to be an unusual moss that covered the floor. I was eager to view the source of the light from behind the veil of vines.
The sound of footsteps in the hallway caused me to pause on the soft moss. The door knob started opening so I all but did a leap to hide behind a cluster of vines. I squatted low, peeking through the vines to see bare feet creeping softly on the moss toward me.
A warm glow near my face forced my head to slowly turn. I faced the source of the light. At first I could only make out a glow that appeared as if from a firefly. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I gasped as I looked squarely into the tiniest face of a very pale creature with pointed ears and beaded eyes that shone brilliantly like jewels. Male or female, I could not say. Though it did not speak with words, somehow, I felt its voice whisper, “Release me.”
I knew I was looking into the face of a creature from another world–a creature that I would soon find would alter my destiny forever. I felt my heart pounding in my chest as I stared into the beady eyes.
Suddenly, the creature opened its small mouth and breathed on me. Something about that whiff of breath caused my head to start spinning. I knew I was about to pass out; all of this felt like a dream, and I succumbed to the darkness forcing itself upon my reality.
I had seen her picture in the newspaper before I met her. She was photographed in her element–big hair teased into a fifties hairdo and pearly white teeth flashing behind scarlet red lips. Even her yellow sunflower dress was reminiscent of the fifties, complete with a crisp white apron. Eloise Nobody. She had just won Woman of the Year for her work with juvenile delinquents. I fit that category, so it wasn’t surprising that my case worker arranged a meeting between us.
Mr. Jeffries was brought on to take over my case when Ms. Wilma had a sudden heart attack. Thankfully, she hadn’t met with me that fateful day, or I’m sure I would have been blamed and suffered what they would have deemed “appropriate punishment.”
I glanced over at Mr. Jeffries. I was still trying to find out how far I could push his buttons before he snapped. He was holding up pretty impressively under my constant barrage of insults. I would never let him know, but I felt a grudging respect for the balding man, or maybe it was pity. His thick glasses were certainly cause for pity–blurry and tinged with yellow from age. They were almost as old as his thin plaid shirts with curious holes caused by hot cigarette butts, no doubt. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that he was as unaffected by fashion as I.
I heard the sound of high heels clicking over the tile floor before Eloise Nobody made her appearance. And what an appearance she made. Her dark hair was practically cement from the hair spray she had used to keep every single strand in its tidy place atop her head. Her signature red lipstick was just as brilliant against her teeth as portrayed in the newspaper.
I was amused to see Mr. Jeffries scurry to his feet, nervously sliding his glasses back up his nose. He took the woman’s perfectly manicured hand into his own sweating palms, lingering with his handshake a bit longer than what one would have guessed would be considered polite.
Unfazed, Mrs. Nobody firmly withdrew her hand and turned to me. “So this must be Riley. An unusual name for a young lady.”
Mr. Jeffries motioned for me to rise, which I did reluctantly. He threw me a hard look. This was my last hope in finding a home and he was afraid I’d blow my big chance at becoming a member of the expanded Nobody clan, as they were known.
Mrs. Nobody looked me up and down as though examining a pedigree dog; she even grabbed my chin to view my profile, her nails lightly pressing against my skin.
“Can you speak, dear?”
I didn’t like the air of disdain emanating from this woman. “Sí, puedo hablar,” I said quietly.
“Oh, you speak Spanish?”
“Je parle aussi du français,” I responded, looking directly into her hazel eyes.
Mrs. Nobody smiled at my response. “You also speak French,” she translated.
I was surprised she knew both languages. As a defense mechanism, I’d found that if I responded to questions in a foreign language, most people were silenced and asked nothing further from me.
“Riley is quite the girl, Mrs. Nobody,” Mr. Jeffries said hurriedly. He could sense a tension between us.
“So I hear,” Mrs. Nobody murmured. “I’ve read your file. You have quite an abusive history with you being the abuser.”
I wasn’t going to defend that remark. Why bother? No one had believed my cry of self defense the last four years I’d been in the system.
“Tell me, Riley, are you ambitious?”
That was a question I’d never been asked before. I really didn’t know how to answer it. I hadn’t given myself the luxury of thinking about a future. I had been quite preoccupied with just surviving the present. I shrugged my shoulders in response.
“Well,” Mrs. Nobody said with a sigh, “I don’t think I have any further questions for Riley. I don’t think she would fit in with my–clan. I just don’t see enough potential.”
That was the end of the interview–just like that. I felt my blood boil as she turned and started walking away. Mr. Jeffries was speechless. It was probably the most odd interview he had ever encountered in his tenure as a social worker. I couldn’t contain myself.
“One day I will have the opportunity to explore my potential, Mrs. Nobody. I no longer will have to put up with the ugly control that people like you try to exercise over kids like me just because I’m a victim of being born into the wrong family.”
Mrs. Nobody stopped in her tracks and slowly turned to face me, a small smile curving her bright red lips. “Now that response sounds like it came from an intelligent young woman who probably hasn’t had too many breaks in her life.”
I was confused. I had expected that she would lash out at me. Instead, I stood looking into a set of warm, sympathetic eyes.
“Your file shows you flunking almost every grade in school, Riley. Can you explain that?”
I swallowed, knowing that my answer may decide my fate on whether I would be accepted into Mrs. Nobody’s home. I didn’t want to be transparent with this stranger and tell her that I hardly went to school. I chose, instead, to spend my time trying to hide from people.”
“I’m not motivated,” I said simply.
Her eyes narrowed out of curiosity. “And why is that?”
“School is about labels, Mrs. Nobody,” I said bluntly. “At every new school, I knew I was going to be labeled a loser. That’s the truth of it, and probably not the answer you were wanting.”
“I see.” She studied my face for several minutes in silence. “I have certain rules that all my kids have to abide by. If I were to take you in, can you assure me you will follow my rules?”
“Of course she will,” Mr. Jeffries hurriedly piped in.
“It depends,” I said.
Mrs. Nobody’s eyes brightened with curiosity. “On what?”
“Are you asking me to abide by rules that are illegal or harmful to my health?”
I heard Mr. Jeffries gasp aloud. I’m sure he felt his hopes of finding me a “home” looked far fetched about now. I suspected he was tired of having to act the role of an advocate for someone as rebellious as me.
Mrs. Nobody laughed, genuinely, as though quite amused. “Are you suggesting that I would participate in anything illegal or harmful?”
“I’ve learned never to judge a book by its cover, Mrs. Nobody. I’ve been fooled by people too many times.”
She crossed her arms, examining me with a fresh interest. “My house is a house of adventure, Riley. I am prepared to offer you a chance to embark on a most magnificent adventure if you feel you have interest.”
I had grown adept at reading people through the years of being on my own. Though our interview had lasted only a few minutes, I felt that Mrs. Nobody was being sincere in her offer. I had no idea that my life was to experience that most fantastic adventure that she had promised.
I arrived at the Nobody’s large stone house on a drizzling day in April. Mr. Jeffries was going to escort me to the front door, but I firmly asked him to leave me alone unless I called him for assistance. I could see the look of relief on his face as I closed the car door and made my way to the front door of the house. He waited in the car to make sure I didn’t run away–it was his duty.
I knocked on the solid wood door several times. When it opened, Mr. Jeffries honked goodbye and drove off.
I was surprised to be greeted by a lanky boy I recognized from school. He had been a loner at school, but I hadn’t seen him around lately. I guess he was now a Nobody.
His penetrating grey eyes were so bright that I had to look away. It’s not that he was really cute, but there was something interesting about him.
“I’m Shane. Mrs. Nobody said you were coming today. Do you have a suitcase?”
I felt the heat rising up in my cheeks. All of my personal belongings were easily stuffed into my backpack. I shook my head and looked down at the floor, embarrassed.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Shane said softly. “Most of us came here with nothing.”
I threw a grateful look at him, appreciating his kindness. I was met with the same probing eyes I had felt from Mrs. Nobody, and suddenly I felt self conscious about the way I looked. I’ve always felt my frame was too thin. The oversized bomber jacket I wore only emphasized that. I had chopped my dark hair very short myself. It was easier to manage. I nervously tugged at a loose strand that fell over my eye.
“Well, come meet the rest of the clan,” Shane said kindly.
I followed him down a darkened hallway to a large, open room. I wouldn’t exactly call it a classroom because there weren’t desks, but the way all the kids sat around several tables made it feel that way. Add to that Mrs. Nobody in her trademark fifties apparel, and the whole scenario echoed a black and white TV show.
“Riley,” Mrs. Nobody cooed, “we are so happy to have you join us. Everyone, this is Riley, the newest member of our clan.”
I felt all eyes rest upon me, inspecting me. It was uncomfortable and I so badly wanted to turn around and leave. I looked at the faces, about ten in all, peering up at me. Strangely, all the boys wore crisp white shirts and denim jeans. All the girls wore simple floral dresses. I felt like I was in some sort of twilight zone.
Shane patted my shoulder. “Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it.”
I tried to smile, but my lips felt frozen. I’m sure I looked like a deer caught in headlights. Mrs. Nobody seemed to sense my discomfort and clapped her hands to draw attention back to herself.
“Ok, clan. Let’s practice our greetings.”
One by one, the kids arose and dutifully said their name and age. Most were young teens, but I recognized a couple of girls from my school. One was Yolanda, a heavy set black girl my age. She’d been in and out of jail most of her teen years. Everyone at school was scared of her, including me. Not that I had too much to worry about–I never drew attention to myself for her to notice me. Here she was, wearing one of those floral dresses and looking as freshly scrubbed as the others.
Suni was the other girl I knew from school. By the time she was 15, she’d already had two babies and was pretty much considered white trash at school. I’d always felt kind of sorry for her. She’d given the babies up for adoption, and I suspected she was having sex to fill that void of love in her life.
Void of love. That probably summed up what each of us felt in this room. Except these kids seemed different now. At least, I know Yolanda and Suni seemed different. They actually seemed, I don’t know, content. I struggled to bring my attention back to Mrs. Nobody, who was addressing me directly.
“All of us have a dress code here, Riley. You’ll find your wardrobe in the closet next to your bed. You’ll also find–”
“No, thank you,” I said firmly, cutting Mrs. Nobody off.
“I’m fine with my own clothes.”
“I don’t think you understand, Riley. The wardrobe is mandatory.”
I didn’t say anything. I just glared at her and stiffened my lips. I guess this was one of her “rules.”
“Shane will take your jacket.”
I was attached to my jacket. It was the one item I had left of my father who was killed in the war. He was the only one who had cared for me and I wasn’t about to let this woman’s rules dictate giving it up.
“No,” I said firmly. “I won’t give up my jacket.”
Mrs. Nobody’s expression softened. “I’m not asking you to give it up, Riley. We don’t wear coats inside. Shane will hang it in the coat closet.”
I felt foolish in front of all those kids, but no one snickered. They were actually faces of kindness staring back at me.
I took off my jacket and handed it to Shane, feeling vulnerable in my tank top. All eyes were on my tattoos. One caught Mrs. Nobody’s eye and she came closer to inspect it.
“Who drew this?”
I looked at the tattoo of the fairy on my upper arm that I had drawn several years earlier. It had taken about a year to save up for the tattoo, but I was quite pleased with the result.
“I did,” I said.
It almost looked like she was holding her breath because she suddenly let out some air that had filled her chest.
“That’s a beautiful drawing,” she said. “Tell me, how did you conceive it?”
“I don’t know. I like fantasy, and it just came to me one night.”
“Hmm,” she whispered softly and turned back to the class.
Officially, I could say I felt totally freaked out by her, Yolanda, and all those clothes. I was about to ask for a phone to call Mr. Jeffries to come pick me up, but then I caught Shane’s eyes. They were so kind; I felt I could trust him. I had never felt that way about anyone I just met. I thought I should give it a try for a couple of days, see if the weirdness got any better.
Ushered out by Mrs. Nobody, I followed Shane down the hall to the stairs leading to the bedrooms upstairs. The house smelled somewhat musky. I briefly wondered if it had mold problems.
Shane pointed down a dark hall. “This wing is off limits. Feel free to go anywhere else in the house, but not there.”
I raised my brows in amusement and shrugged. “Sure,” I said nonchalantly.
Shane led me further and then stopped at one of the rooms. “You’ll share a room with Yolanda.”
I cautiously entered the room. It was very clean. The bedding on the twin beds was so tightly tucked in that it gave me the feeling of being in army barracks. Yolanda had a picture of her and a younger girl on a nightstand beside one of the beds. I headed for the other bed and tossed my backpack on it.
“You can hang your backpack in the closet,” Shane said. “Mrs. Nobody likes us to keep everything tidy.”
Since I could never imagine a guy his age using the word “tidy,” I assumed he must be repeating Mrs. Nobody’s words. I grabbed my backpack and opened the closet doors. There were several outfits neatly hung and arranged in the closet. They were the same floral type dresses the other girls wore.
“How long have you been here?” I asked.
“About four months.”
I wanted to ask him some real questions about living in this weird house, but his seemingly accepting demeanor held my tongue in check. He seemed to sense my hesitations.
“Give it a chance, Riley. It’ll all be worth it, I promise.”
He was so sincere that all I could do was nod. Calling Mr. Jeffries was always an option, but that, too, meant going back into the system to find another family willing to take me in. The system hadn’t worked in my favor yet.
Shane ran his hand through his neatly combed blonde hair as if he was still getting used to the short, trimmed style. He took a small breath and quickly strummed his fingers against the door jam. “Do you want to hang out in your room for a while and come on down when you’re ready?”
I nodded silently and sat on the bed, almost afraid to cause a wrinkle in the bedding. He looked as if he was about to say something else, but instead just flashed me one more smile before departing.
I waited until I heard his footsteps disappear, then I arose to explore my new surroundings. Carefully, I smoothed out the wrinkles on my bed before crossing to the door. Nervous excitement arose in me at the newness of my surroundings. It was a large house and suddenly, I felt like getting lost in it.