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Another Way
Book Three - Book Three
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-413-6
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Dark Fantasy
eBook Length: 343 Pages
Published: June 2018

From inside the flap

Jeanette steps from a moving train into a multidimensional maze, which is a part of something greater. The miniature world at the center of the maze is the center of all things, even beyond the maze. The dark outside force has sent a tempter to bring about its downfall.

Jeanette goes to a world of layers: the Sea of Grass; huge mesas of untouched forest; the Midlands of the people, whose culture is hundreds of thousands of years old; and the desert Uplands where demons dwell. An old enemy has come, and Jeanette, believed to be a demon, must keep him from enslaving the people.

An agent of the enemy brings unnatural winter to her world, and comes itself to attack her in her home at night. In a world similar to her own, she must first deal with the unnatural winter, then find the agent, in a stolen tower house, bigger on the inside than on the outside.

She must prove herself again, and again. She must show not only her greater courage, strength, and leadership, but learn to control her rage, and show compassion.

Another Way (Excerpt)

Chapter Forty One: Midnight Train

It was dark by the time Jeanette boarded the train. She had chosen the late departure so she could sleep during the boring part of the trip, and would be awake when things were interesting.

She had taken a roomette rather than a smaller compartment. It had two bunks but only the bottom one was made up. There was a tiny bathroom, and an even tinier closet in which she stowed her package of weapons. A fold-down table beside the window had a swivel-mounted chair.

She sat on the bunk, feeling the gentle motion, hearing but not listening to the sound of wheels on track. She was wide awake. She turned out the light, went to the chair, and watched the lights of the city go slowly by. There was a moon, which gave some form to houses, trees, and occasional commercial buildings. After a while there were fewer lights, then the even darker suburbs. The train picked up speed when they left the city. The tracks ran parallel to a highway for a while, but the cars, their headlights glaring, were going faster than the train.

This was the first time she had been on a train since the summer she was nine. Her parents had taken her to visit her grandparents in North Dakota. The train part of the trip had been exciting, the movement and the sounds and watching the countryside change as they went from one state to another. The memories had stayed with her.

The visit with her grandparents had been less enjoyable. She was the only child there, she wasn't allowed to go out by herself, and there wasn't much to do besides sit and listen to the grownups talk. Her grandparents had few books that she could read and, what utterly surprised her, they had no paper on which to draw or write.

But the train ride had been wonderful. She hadn't minded being under her parents' constant supervision if she had a window to look out of, and as long as she was quiet they left her alone.

The movement and the sounds were as she remembered them. The night, despite the moonlight, was too dark for her to see much of the countryside. One tiny town, hardly more than two crossroads, had its three street lights on and she liked what she saw of it, but that was all there was. She decided to go to the club car.

The car behind her sleeper car had an upper level, then there was the empty diner, then two coaches, which were nearly dark, the observation car, two more coaches, and at last the club car, which also had an upper dome. There were two men at one of the large booths on one side, and three women at another on the other side. She didn't want to sit with them, but at least there were people. She had become used to having company, which she had never sought out before. Steve had always been enough.

She went past the booths and the curving stairs into the narrow passage beside the food counter. The not quite elderly man behind it sold her a split of wine for seven fifty. With the tiny bottle she got a glass and a napkin. "How late will you be open?" she asked.

"The car will be open all night, but I shut down the bar at midnight, local time."

She took her drink up to the dome, but there was nobody there. She went back down and sat at one of the small booths between the larger ones. There was nobody in the opposite booth. She poured her wine.

Being on a train affects all your senses. It helped her feel removed from recent events, almost like another form of reality, where grief and anger and fear didn't exist. Or at least didn't matter. When she was safely home, with no one to answer to or for, then she could deal with all those things, but not now.

Home. She saw her house as if it were just outside the window, the rooms, the yard, the street, right there in front of her. But it was all so far away. The time she had personally experienced had not been all that much, despite the months which had passed here. But she was not the same person any more. She wondered if home would actually feel like home when she got back.

She listened to the quiet talk on either side of her. The two men, across the way toward the back, were discussing business of some sort. They had been there for some time. One of the women in the booth on her side of the car was complaining about some member of her family. The two women with her occasionally uttered sounds of sympathy.

The men ran out of conversation after a while. Then one of them said something about the recent bad weather. Jeanette couldn't make out much, but apparently it had been extreme all over the country. A lot of their comments were about the incompetence of the weather bureau, which had predicted none of it. One of the men said something about inconvenience, and the other said something that sounded like it was about injuries, but if he mentioned any deaths she didn't hear it. The freaky weather had returned to normal after the flood which had carried away her parents. That had been her enemy's purpose after all. Her enemy probably knew that she was in her own world. Did it know that she was on this train? Or just here in general? Maybe now that she was going home, it would think that she had given up. Well, let it think that.

She leaned back and looked out the window beside her. The countryside, dimly lit by the moon, was darker than the sky. All she could see were irregular shapes going by. Sometimes the moonlight cast shadows, which hinted at trees or houses, but they were quickly gone.

She finished her wine. The bartender was cleaning up and asked if she wanted another. She didn't. He spoke to the two men. They wanted another round. The women had finished and went out past the bar toward the back of the train.

At last she decided she could sleep. She put an extra dollar on the table and left.

There were a few reading lights in the coach, but most of the people were trying to sleep. There were the sounds of heavy breathing, a few snores, occasionally the rustle of a page turning, and the subtle noises of people trying to get comfortable in the reclining seats. Jeanette was glad that she had chosen to pay for a roomette.

She went through the accordion connector between the cars into the vestibule of the next coach. She tried to not disturb people as she walked past them. It was very quiet. There was no rustling, no snoring.

She went through the door at the other end and paused on the jointed floor between cars. It was noisy here, but the sound and the motion were reassuring, almost soothing. It was familiar, in a strange sort of way, even though her last experience of it had been - what was it now - more than fourteen years ago. She had had another birthday since she had been gone. But this was her world after all, and despite everything it felt good to be back.

She went into the dome coach, past the luggage compartments and the rest rooms to the first section of seats. It was awfully quiet. The people around her were sleeping very soundly. Out of curiosity she went up to the dome. There were only a few people there. She went back down, then past the three little lounges in the middle of the car. They were empty. The people in the last four rows of seats were as quiet as those in the first three had been.

She was half way along the next coach before she realized that there was no sound here at all. She looked at the people behind her. They were completely motionless. Even those with reading lights were frozen in place.

What had she been saying to herself, about being back home at last?

The woman in the aisle seat on her left appeared to be asleep, her chair pushed back as far as it would go, a blanket draped across her legs. Her mouth was open, but she was not breathing. The woman next to her had her face turned away. The man on the right wasn't breathing either, nor was the child sitting next to him.

A chill touched her between her shoulders. These people weren't dead, it wasn't that simple. She hurried to the next lit seat, where a man was reading a paperback. She leaned toward him and said softly, "Excuse me."

He did not respond. His eyes did not flicker. He was not breathing. She waved her hand between his face and his book. He did nothing. He could have been a mannequin. She reached out to touch his arm but couldn't bring herself to do it. She looked at all the motionless people behind her, went to the next connector, but stopped before entering the vestibule ahead of her.

The noise of the wheels against the rails seemed somehow distant, as if it were coming from a block away. The swaying and bouncing of the train was slow and gentle, a motion that would have been soporific if it hadn't been frightening. She went into the vestibule and looked through the window in the outside door. She could see nothing at all. She felt for her enemy, but there was no sign of it, whatever it was.

The next coach was so silent it made her hair stand up. And there was no light either, though she could see everything clearly. She hurried through the car and stopped in the connector. There was no sound. There was no motion.

Time had stopped. Or her perception of it had. She could move, and breathe, and think…. What might her reaction have been, if this had been her first experience with the greater reality? The thought almost made her laugh. She was very changed indeed.

The tables in the empty dining car had not been set, only fresh cloths had been put on. Her ticket included meals. She wondered if it mattered.

She sat down at one of the round tables. Time had stopped, but her knees brushed the table cloth aside as it normally would. Whatever was causing the time effect, she was outside it. She tried again to feel her enemy, but she couldn't. She tried to perceive the fabric of reality, but she couldn't. That didn't make sense.

She shivered again. If it wasn't her enemy who was doing this, then who was? It wasn't her guide, who had never done anything more than give her hints and suggestions and clues. If you didn't count opening portals from one world to another. But she had been doing that herself, her guide had just nudged her, showing her the way.

Whatever was doing this, she wasn't yet where she was supposed to be. She looked out the window beside her. There was nothing. It was not dark, there was just nothing there.

She went through the first sleeper to the next connector. There was no more train beyond that. Her car and all the train forward were gone.

This car's part of the connector floor butted up against a small platform that was not a part of the train. It was about six feet on a side. It was hard to tell exactly. At first she thought it was white, but really it was no color at all. At first she thought that the void in which the platform and the train were suspended was black. But really, it was no color at all.

She stood for a long moment without thinking. A two-foot wide walkway extended beyond the little platform into an infinite distance. It had no rails, and no supports as far as she could see.

She wanted to go home. She really wanted to go home.

She turned back to the pneumatic door which had opened so easily when she had come out. She reached out to touch the plate switch and paused. How had it been able to work, if time had stopped? She touched it. The door slid open, all but silently. The hall elled to the left the way it was supposed to. There were only roomettes on this car, unlike hers which had a number of smaller compartments as well. She did not go through the open door. She didn't want to commit herself to that. If she went back, if time returned, would she lose her only chance to do what was being asked of her? Or would she be stuck on a timeless train forever?

She turned away from the door. It hissed shut behind her. The platform in front of her was unchanged. The walkway leading away from it was unchanged. The black but colorless void was unchanged. She shivered.

It was always her choice, to stay or go, to drop the rock or not. And since it was her choice, she was sure that this was not her enemy's doing. And if it was not her guide, then it had to be some power behind it. And whatever that was, it had gone to an awful lot of effort to let her know that she was needed.

She took a step onto the little platform. It held firm. She crossed it to the walkway, narrow and without rails. She took a breath - even here she had to breathe - and started walking. After a few minutes she turned to look behind her.