Julietrielle Agnos Montgomery constantly gets a feeling that she doesn't belong. When she discovers that she's actually from a fantasy world and possibly the key to its survival, she and an unsuspecting ally get thrown into a chain of events that change everyone's lives forever.
I have three memories of my father.
Julietrielle Agnos Montgomery pushed roughly through the crowded halls of Worthington High School to her last class of the day.
The first, I am standing in my living room. I am four years old. He tells me that he wishes he could stay with me, but he has to get back. There’s a war going on. My mother tells him that there’s always a war going on, but he doesn’t say anything. He just leaves.
Shoved against a locker, she tried to catch the eye of the self-absorbed jock responsible. He finally looked at her and cringed at the venomous glare she sent his way. She touched her face tenderly. The skin was warm to the touch, irritated from being slammed against the combination lock on the violently yellow lockers that lined the hall.
The second is nowhere near as vivid. All I remember is a shower of black feathers, and his kind smile.
She readjusted the bag on her shoulder and slipped inside the next classroom, hurriedly claiming the closest desk to the door that she saw.
The third is the one that makes the least amount of sense.
Her geography professor, Mr. Nielson, stepped into the room. His eyes glazed over the chair that Juliet was sitting in, but instead of acknowledging her presence, he treated her as if she were invisible. She smiled gently to herself, knowing that it was working. The teachers at Worthington High School couldn't pick on her - she always had the right answer, no matter when they tried to catch her off guard.
It’s so hard to process that it makes me dizzy when I think about it.
The rest of the class filed into the room in small intervals, one or two arriving after the tardy bell had rang. Mr. Nielson shuffled some papers around on the desk and began calling roll.
The only thing I ever remember is this horrible purple light, like I'm losing myself...
The teacher finished calling out the names and picked up a stack of papers that looked suspiciously like the essays they turned in last Friday. Juliet sunk a little lower in her chair when Mr. Nielson finally looked at her. She felt confused, as she usually aced everything in that class, but the look he gave her said otherwise.
And then it happens all over again...
Mr. Nielson started handing out the papers to various students, some of them handing the essays back to their correct owner. He slowly made his way across the classroom.
The feeling that I always get every day at this school...
He stopped in front of her desk, looking between her and the paper and then back again.
Like I’ve done this before. Like I’m missing something. Something important.
He dropped the stapled stack of paper onto her desk.
Something that could change everything.
Juliet dropped her eyes to the thickly outlined letter on the front page and then looked back up incredulously at her teacher.
“I want you to stay after class to talk about this, Miss Montgomery.”
“How did I get an ‘F’?” She pressed. “I’m your star student. I've never gotten anything less than a 100 in this class.”
“If you wanted full marks, Miss Montgomery, then you shouldn’t have tried to make a fool of me. I know better.”
“What are you talking about?”
Mr. Nielson peered down skeptically through his thin, rectangular glasses. “See me after class.”
A couple of giggles rippled through the room as Mr. Nielson returned to the front of the class to begin the day’s lesson. Juliet didn’t pay attention to a single thing, flipping back and forth through her essay. There were no markings - no underlines in red pen, no comments scribbled in the margins. The only thing that covered up her carefully formulated report was the obscenely large letter ‘F’ on the front page.
And still, when Mr. Nielson called on her, she had the correct answer.
He shook his head, confused, and returned to the lecture, not bothering to call on her through the rest of the class. When the bell rang, there was a flurry of activity as the other students gathered up there things, shoved it into various backpacks, and left the class room, excited that their school day was finally over. Juliet was left sitting there, still staring, brow furrowed, at the only failing grade she had ever received.
Mr. Nielson took his time about addressing her. He seemed reluctant about doing so, as if he were frightened of the poor girl. He shuffled slowly across the room.
She didn’t respond - she just kept flipping back and forth through the seven pages of her hard work.
She still didn’t acknowledge him.
Juliet’s head jerked upward and she glared at him. “Never address me by my full first name.”
“I apologize, but I needed to get your attention.”
“What is wrong with this paper?” Juliet asked sharply.
“Everything is wrong with that paper.”
She shook her head, flipping through the pages and back more quickly now. “You didn’t cross out a single thing. You didn't underline unnecessary sentences or comment on any of my theories and facts. You did nothing but mar the front of it with a red marker.”
“It was very well written.”
“Then what’s wrong with it?” She snapped.
The corner of his mouth curved upward into a mocking smile. “The city you wrote about doesn’t exist.”
The incessant turning of pages stopped. “Excuse me?”
“I thought maybe, at first, it was a place I just hadn’t heard of,” continued Mr. Nielson, looking a little frightened now. “But I searched every map, every encyclopedia, and every reliable website I could think of. The city of Taln does not exist. There is no pirate city on the south western coast of the Great Sea. There is no country called Eldias.”
“I'm sorry. What?”
“I said -”
“I heard what you said.”
He sat down slowly in the desk beside hers. “You may rewrite the paper and give it to me tomorrow. It will start at an 80, but it’s better than a zero.”
“Juliet, I understand how you’re feeling, but you’re the one who wrote this completely fictitious paper in the first place.”
“It isn’t fictitious,” she stated angrily. “I spent hours reading through my mother’s old history books - you’re not the only one who appreciates geography, Mr. Nielson. I'm telling you, Eldias and Taln and all of the people who live there are real.”
He sighed. “I cannot give you credit for fiction and carefully formulated lies.”
“I'll bring in the books tomorrow. I'll show you everything I used. It’s real.”
He stared at her skeptically.
“Fine,” he said, exasperated. He stood back up. “If you can bring in these books to show me tomorrow I'll give you full credit. Otherwise, I have no choice but to keep the zero in the grade book.”
Juliet nodded and quickly gathered her things, grateful for the chance to show him that she was telling the truth. It was rare that she ever pulled for grades - one zero in a sea of hundreds was not going to kill her average - but for some reason she felt as though she needed to prove herself. For some reason she couldn’t place, the existence of this distant country called Eldias was extremely important to her.
As she walked through the now nearly empty halls towards the front lobby, Juliet fished through her bag for her headphones. She slipped the small ear buds in and turned on her mp3 player, blasting the first song she could find. She slipped the small device into her pocket and kept her eyes downward at the floor.
When she reached the lobby, she refused to look at those who had been in her geography class – those who now watched her with lingering stares. She refused to allow the incident to bother her more than, as she hated to admit, it did.
“Juliet!” she heard a male voice calling. She glanced upward and instantly regretted it, grimacing at the sight of the tall figure running towards her. She tried to turn her music up louder and continued walking. It was disappointing to find that it was already as loud as was possible.
“Juliet! Wait!” called the boy. She shook her head, shaking out her curly black hair, and tried to shove past a crowd of people blocking a side hall out to the parking lot. Juliet was not fast enough. The tall, gangly boy skidded to a halt in front of her, which caused her to run into him, her belongings clattering to the floor and her headphones ripping painfully away from her ears. He dropped to the floor right after them, trying to gather everything quickly.
“Shit, Juliet, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“You never mean to, Nigel,” she replied, resigning to herself that conversation was, at this point, inevitable.
He straightened up, staring at the essay that had slipped out of her bag.
“Hey, that’s mine!” She complained, stretching up on her toes to take it away from him, but he held up a hand, looking it over. She sighed. Trying to yank it from him was a pointless gesture to begin with – he was at least an entire foot taller than she.
“Where did you get this information?” he asked seriously.
Juliet was confused. “What are you talking about?”
Nigel said nothing, handing her the still-open backpack. Juliet slung it over her shoulder. She looked at him quizzically.
“What do you know about that place?”
He shook his head. He read through it rapidly, clearly not from mere curiosity regarding her failing grade.
He finished reading and handed her back the paper. “Where did you get this information?” he repeated.
“Out of my mother’s old history books – why? Do you believe me? Do you know of it, too?”
Nigel took a moment to process the information. “I was just wondering,” he said, shrugging. “It sounds like a very interesting place.”
Juliet continued to stare at him. She realized that, though he tried at nonchalance, he was hiding something. She hastily shoved the paper back in her bag.
“Did you have a good day?”
“You mean aside from failing my geography paper? Yeah, it was wonderful.”
Nigel rolled his eyes. “You’re never going to tell me anything about yourself, are you?”
“Why would I?” Juliet asked, sneering. She began walking away. She hoped Nigel wouldn’t follow, but to no avail. “You’re nosey and hardly know me, and yet you insist on basically stalking me every afternoon. I promise you, Nigel, I’m not some great mystery to figure out.”
He shrugged. “You may think that, but I see otherwise.”
She stopped suddenly, turning towards him. “I don’t care what is it you see, Nigel. I’m not interested.”
“I know that.”
“Then why are you still here?”
He hesitated a moment, choosing his answer carefully. “Because I am interested, Juliet. And that paper of yours gives me another reason to be.”
“I don’t understand.”
“And I don’t understand why you don’t understand, but I want to find out.”
Juliet turned back towards the doors to the parking lot, pushing in the handle to open it, before saying, “Just go home, Nigel.” She left him standing there, rushing out in the typical March rain to her small yellow VW bug.
The drive home was short, and Juliet was thankful to see her mother’s car in the driveway. She grabbed her things and raced into the house.
“Hello?” She called in the front hall as she set her bag down on the small table and peeled off her soaking jacket.
Elena, Juliet’s mother, stepped out of the kitchen. She was slender and beautiful, with long blonde hair and gray eyes – the complete opposite of her dark haired daughter. Juliet often wondered where it was she had gotten her looks from. She saw nothing of herself in her mother’s small, pointed nose or almond shaped eyes.
“Juliet, honey,” Elena said happily. “How was school today?”
“It was awful. I failed a paper.”
Elena looked shocked. “You failed a paper? You never fail anything! I’ve never seen you get below full marks on anything in school now that I think about it.”
“I know, that’s why the day was awful,” Juliet said matter-of-factly. She pulled the crumpled essay out of her bag and handed it to her mother. Elena skimmed through it without really seeing it, looking for red marks just as Juliet had.
“He didn’t give you any reason as to why he failed you, did he? From what I can tell, it’s written perfectly.”
“He failed me,” Juliet sighed, “because the city I wrote about apparently does not exist.”
“I did research out of the books in the old wooden chest under your bed and wrote about one of the cities in there.”
Her mother began reading the paper more intently.
“If I’m to get full marks,” she continued, unperturbed, “I need to bring him the books to show him that the essay is not unfounded.”
“Absolutely not,” Elena said sternly, lifting her eyes from her daughter’s essay.
“Why not?” Juliet replied, confused. “Don’t you want me to pass?”
“I’ve told you countless times, Julietrielle, that you’re not to go through those things. What else did you look at?”
“The old photo album of you and Father. It looked as though you guys loved costume parties…” She trailed off when her attempt at humor failed. She sighed.
“I’m sorry but those books and things are very special to me. I’ve told you you’re not to go looking at them and you’ve disobeyed me. I realize that your grades are important but one zero is not going to kill you since you get hundreds at everything else.”
“No buts, Julietrielle. I’m not going to hear it. You’re not to touch that chest ever again, do you understand me?”
“Good. Dinner is on the table. Eat quickly and then go to your bedroom. I hope you can come up with some good excuse for Mr. Nielson tomorrow. I don’t want any phone calls asking me why I don’t care about my child’s grades.”
Juliet said nothing and walked quietly past her mother into the kitchen. She ate in silence, still trying to decipher her own thoughts. She could not figure out why proving the existence of Eldias was so important to her. It infuriated her that her mother wouldn’t allow her to do so. But still, Juliet thought, if mother catches me disobeying her again, I’ll be punished.
She sighed and pushed away from the table, leaving the dishes. Juliet knew that cleaning helped to calm her mother, even if the act of leaving them there would bother her.
Julietrielle spent the night at her desk, not thinking of what she was going to tell Mr. Nielson the following afternoon, but sketching out the maps and places she had seen in the chest her mother kept locked away. She wondered why her mother would keep such an incredible part of her past hidden away, and began to search the maps and other resources she had in her bedroom for Eldias.
She was bothered to come up with the same results as Mr. Nielson – everywhere she looked, she found no traces of Eldias or Taln or of the Great Sea. And yet the maps she had seen in her mother’s room had been so real. Why was the country not marked on any of the maps she could find?
By eleven o’ clock that evening, her desk and bedroom floor were scattered with over thirty sketches of the maps she could remember. She finally turned out the lights, undressed, and settled into her bed. As Juliet drifted to sleep, she wondered in passing at Nigel’s reaction to her paper, decided she was too exhausted to care, and allowed the dreams to claim her.
An hour later, Elena came in to Juliet’s bedroom, gathered up her daughter’s hard work, and left silently. She placed the sketches into the fireplace, and set them ablaze with a match. In her bedroom, Juliet stirred. It had been so long since her mother had lit a fire in the old stone fireplace, but before she could gather up the will to get out of bed, she had already fallen back asleep.