• Prologue

    THE SMELL of buttered toast and nutmeg lingered in the air as ten year old Stanley Westerson played with his brand new train set his mother had bought him for Christmas that year. This would be the fourth day straight that Stanley would enjoy the electric motorized train, flawlessly set to travel under his homemade bridge made of Lego’s.

    Stanley remembered just two years ago when his father had stayed up at a completely unreasonable hour just to help Stanley build a miniature representation of their home out of Lego’s. They were going to give it to his mother for her birthday. Unfortunately the house only lasted a couple of weeks. Stanley had accidentally knocked it down while playing tag with some friends in the house—a game that his mother told him was only to be played outside.

    Maybe if he’d known that his father would die only months later in a car accident, he would have obeyed one of his mother’s few rules.

    Right as the tiny horn on the toy train sounded, Stanley heard the doorbell reverberate up the stairs. As curious as ever, he decided to play spy and see who was at the door.

    For those few minutes it took to stealthily make his way down the stairs, keeping his back to the wall and his finger gun ready, Stanley was a secret agent sent on a top secret mission.

    He peaked around the corner right as his mother asked, “Who is it?”

    “Bloc Officials. Open the door please.”

    Stanley’s eyebrows furrowed. What would Bloc Officials be doing at their home? The last time they showed it was to inform them that his father had passed.

    A sinking feeling formed in his gut, but he had to stay focused on the mission.

    His mother opened the door. “How can I help you?”

    The man at the door immediately reached into his vest and pulled out a gun, the end pointed directly at his mother’s head. Stanley’s heart stopped cold.

    His mother raised both of her hands slowly. “What is this about?”

    “Where is your son, Mrs. Westerson?”

    So they were after Stanley. He didn’t understand why they would ask about him. His mother’s blue eyes widened, fear contorting her face.

    “I—I sent him to a friend’s house.”

    She screamed as the man pushed her against the wall, the gun not wavering. “Don’t lie to me!”

    She whimpered as he yelled at her, pressing the end of the gun to her head. “I swear I don’t know,” she sobbed.

    Stanley was close to stepping out and revealing himself, but he never got the chance. The man pulled the trigger, and the gun sounded with a deafening bang. Stanley froze in place as he watched his mother’s body fall limply to the ground.

    Her lifeless eyes settled on him: pleading for him to run.

    “Find him,” the man said coldly.

    Stanley didn’t know what to do. Didn’t know where to go. The only way out was the back kitchen. His body suddenly took over, and he ran as quickly as he could to the back door, the men’s footsteps audibly close behind.

    They were after him.

    His little heart was pounding wildly inside his chest. How fast could a ten year old run after all? How long could he last?

    He nearly took the door out whenever he slammed it open to leave, and the cold air took the oxygen out of his lungs as if a world champ boxer had punched him right in the gut. It was only seconds later that he heard it slam open again. He didn’t want to look back. He didn’t want to see how close the men were.

    His breaths were escaping in short, burning bursts, and he knew he wouldn’t last much longer. His feet left the ground when he heard gun shots from behind. They were shooting at him now.

    One of the bullets nipped his calf muscle, and he doubled over onto the ground, crying out as an excruciating pain shot through his left leg. He managed to look over and see the men drawing closer.

    All hope was lost.

    He wasn’t the secret agent he thought he was after all.

    Stanley almost yelped as he felt a tiny hand grasp his wrist and start pulling him toward the woods.

    “Don’t make a sound,” a small voice said. “Try to stand.”

    Stanley didn’t ask questions. He simply winced as he tried to get onto his feet.

    “Very good. Now follow me.”

    When Stanley looked, he saw a tiny girl standing next to him, but she definitely wasn’t normal. Her skin was a light shade of pink, and her eyes were a black abyss. “Who are you,” he asked.

    “Shh! No time for questions. Come.”

    He looked behind him and noticed the men looking around confused. “Where did he go?!”

    “I don’t know! You lost him!”

    Could they not see him?

    “I lost him?! I bloody shot him! He couldn’t have gotten far. I saw him fall for God’s sake!”

    Stanley looked back at the girl who was now pulling him away. Who was she? Why couldn’t they see him?

    One thing was for sure.

    Stanley Westerson’s life would not be the same.