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Eternity's Wheel

Neil Gaiman


  HarperCollins Publishers


  Advance Reader’s e-proof

  courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers

  This is an advance reader’s e-proof made from digital files of the uncorrected proofs. Readers are reminded that changes may be made prior to publication, including to the type, design, layout, or content, that are not reflected in this e-proof, and that this e-pub may not reflect the final edition. Any material to be quoted or excerpted in a review should be checked against the final published edition. Dates, prices, and manufacturing details are subject to change or cancellation without notice.


  HarperCollins Publishers



  HarperCollins Publishers





  who I think must have had the ability to Walk between conventions.

  —Mallory Reaves






  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  About the Authors

  Also by Neil Gaiman


  About the Publisher


  HarperCollins Publishers



  Mom, Dad, Jenny, and Kevin the Squid,

  I’m sorry.

  I’m sorry I left and I’m sorry I can’t come back, and for everything I’m sure you’ve been through in the past however many years. I’m sorry you were given this note and know I was here but left without saying hello or good-bye. I was never even supposed to come back—it was a fluke, a one-time thing, and the longer I stay, the more likely it is I’d put you in danger.

  I shouldn’t even be writing this. But I couldn’t come back, even accidentally, and leave without saying I miss you. I think of you guys every day. I bet the Squid is so big now! You probably don’t call him that anymore. If you do, when he’s old enough, tell him I’m sorry he got stuck with the nickname. He can blame his older brother, even though he won’t remember me.

  Jenny, I hope you’re enjoying my music collection, and everything else, really. I’m not coming back again, so everything is yours. I miss you, kid.

  Dad, I’m sorry I didn’t say good-bye when I left. It was hard enough to tell Mom, and I knew you wouldn’t let me go. Everything I’m doing is to keep you all safe, even though you may not understand it. I’m doing it to keep everyone safe. I think you’d be proud of me.

  Mom, I still have the necklace you gave me. It helps to remind me of home and what I’m fighting for. I met a girl. Her name is Acacia. I don’t know if it’s even . . . anything, but I think you’d like her. She’s tough. She doesn’t take crap from anybody, especially me.

  I miss you all so much. I know the chances are astronomically slim, but I hope I can see you again someday. That thought is part of what keeps me going.

  I love you.

  J. H.


  HarperCollins Publishers


  HAVE YOU EVER HAD to walk with a broken rib? If not, count yourself lucky—and if you have, I sympathize. If you’ve ever had to walk three blocks with a broken rib, wrist, and fractured shoulder, all while trying to make it look like you were out for a stroll in the park . . . well, then you and I should exchange stories sometime. For now, here’s mine.

  My name is Joseph Harker. I’m almost seventeen, and I’m back on my version of Earth for the first time in two years, if not longer. It’s hard to tell exactly how much time has passed when you’re hopping from world to world.

  When I left, I gave up everything I’d ever known. My friends, my family, including the little brother who hadn’t quite learned to say my name right yet. The possibility of straight As on my next report card. My favorite breakfast cereal and riding my bike through the crisp fall leaves on Saturday afternoons. My mother’s smile, my father’s laugh. Everything I thought my life would be. Still, I gave it all up, and willingly.

  I’d lost so much more than that in the past two days.

  It was dark; the sun had just been going down when I’d arrived. I’d stayed in the park to watch the red-gold light set the familiar town afire one last time, then started off toward my school. My old school, I should say. “School” now was the long, sterile halls and compact rooms of InterWorld Base Town; the Hazard Zone combat sessions; and the field trips that were all for field training. At least, it had been. Maybe InterWorld Base Town was my old school now, too.

  No, I thought fiercely, as I concentrated on keeping my feet moving across the grass. I would get back there. I would see InterWorld again.

  I had to.

  Through the park, off the grass, onto the sidewalk. Even being away for so long, I knew where I was going—which wasn’t due to any innate sense of direction, believe me. I just knew that the park was between my house and my school, and I had landed house side instead of school side. Not too difficult, even for someone who might or might not have a concussion. I hadn’t hit the ground from that far up when I’d been shoved through dimensions, but it’d sure felt like I had.

  I kept moving, resisting the urge to keep my head down; the last thing I wanted to do was draw attention to myself. I didn’t know how my parents had explained my absence these last two years, but I couldn’t risk being recognized. I was here to see one person, and one person only. Someone who had helped me through any number of crazy situations even before I had turned into an interdimensional freedom fighter.

  My social studies teacher.

  His house was right next to the school, and I only knew where that was because he’d made it a point to tell every kid in his class that if they ever needed anything, day or night, his address was 1234, the same street the school was on. I once asked if he’d picked that number on purpose so it would be easy for us to remember. He shook his head and said, “No, I picked it on purpose so it would be easy for me to remember.”

  1218 . . . 1220 . . . It was getting harder and harder to move without stumbling, but I did my best. There were still a few people out walking dogs or supervising young children. I could see a familiar-looking green Jeep in the distance, parked at the end of a short driveway. 1226 . . . 1230 . . . Almost there. I reached the mailbox marked 1234, stepped around the Jeep, and went up to the front door. The lights were out.

  Please be home, I thought, pressing the doorbell. After a moment I pressed it again, and then I sagged against the wall. He was probably still at the school, grading papers. I should have gone there first. I wasn’t sure I could make it there now.

  I stood there for a few minutes, weighing my options. Could I wait? Should I wait?


  My knees almost buckled, though it was with relief rather than fatigue. I knew that voice.

  I lifted my head, turning to see my former social studies teacher, Mr. Dimas, standing t
here holding a laptop bag in one hand and a stack of papers in another. “Joseph Harker?” he asked again, and I nodded.

  “Mr. Dimas,” I said. “I need help.”

  He peered at me over the rim of his glasses, apparently trying to figure out if I was on the level. I must have looked pitiful, or at least harmless, because he nodded and moved past me to unlock the door without another word. He didn’t seem any older . . . but then, last time I’d been at InterWorld for about five months, I’d only been gone from here for two days. I wasn’t sure how the time discrepancy would translate from two years, but I didn’t feel like doing the math. Come to think of it, for all I knew I could have been thrown back (or even forward) in time; I hadn’t come here on purpose, after all. Could they even do that?

  That was an unsettling thought. I was used to not knowing where I was, but I’d never really had to question when I was. Not until my recent association with a Time Agent, anyway.

  Acacia. God, I was worried about her.

  Mr. Dimas led me inside, turning on the hall light and gesturing for me to sit on his couch. I started to, but hesitated. I could feel the sticky, warm, wet feeling of blood matting the back of my shirt under my hoodie. “I might get blood on it,” I said, and he fixed me with a long look. I could tell what he was probably thinking: that I wasn’t visibly bleeding (except for the cuts on my wrist, which I’d kept in my pocket on the way over), but if I was worried about staining his couch it might be worse than it looked.

  “It’s just a deep scratch, I think,” I said. He sighed.

  “Ordinarily I wouldn’t care about furniture stains, but they still haven’t closed the case on your disappearance. One moment—take off your sweatshirt, if you can.” He left the room.

  I stayed where I was, dizzy from all the sudden implications. Of course my disappearance would have been reported to the police; I’d been young enough when I’d left to still be considered truant. I’d told Mom and Mr. Dimas the truth, and Mom would have told Dad and maybe Jenny, but there’s no way they would have been able to tell anyone else.

  “No one’s being blamed for it, are they?” I blurted out as Mr. Dimas came back into the room. He was carrying two trash bags and a roll of duct tape.

  “No,” he said immediately, and I relaxed a hair as he started to tape the trash bags over his couch. “Your parents reported you as a runaway two days after you left, but the police still looked into everyone you had contact with. Someone saw you come in to talk to me after school the night you disappeared, so they’ve investigated me more thoroughly.”

  “I’m sorry,” I said, unable to think of anything else to say.

  “No need to apologize. Your mother has firmly and publicly stated she does not believe I had any involvement in your disappearance, which has helped. It isn’t as though they suspect me of murder or anything, though they will if you get your blood on my furniture.” He finished the last of the taping and stepped back, nodding to himself. “Sit,” he told me, and I did. The plastic crinkled beneath me, but all the cloth was covered. I leaned back, with no small amount of relief. My ribs were killing me.

  He sat down across from me in a comfortable-looking armchair, and leaned forward to assist me in removing my sweatshirt, like he’d told me to do before. “I don’t know where to start,” he said. I wasn’t sure if he was talking about my injuries, or my story.

  “Neither do I,” I admitted.

  “Why did you come to me, instead of your family?”

  “I can’t stay,” I said immediately. The answer was that simple, really. I couldn’t stay, and my family would want me to. I’d want me to. It wouldn’t be fair to raise their expectations, give them false hope that I was back for good, or that I could at least visit for a while. I wasn’t, and I couldn’t, for their own safety.

  He was nodding, accepting my answer and the unspoken reasons behind it. “Okay. That scrape doesn’t look too bad; you’re not going to bleed out if I run to the drugstore. What do you need?”

  “Ah,” I hesitated, trying to think. “My right wrist is definitely broken, and some of my ribs might be. I also might have a concussion; I fell pretty hard a few . . . on the way over here,” I stumbled, not wanting to give him the impression I’d been in trouble right before coming to his door. “My shoulder was fractured”—I paused, trying to figure out how long ago it had been—“in a rockslide,” I said, stalling. “It was tended to and mostly healed, but it’s still aching.”

  “How long ago was it seen to?”

  It was so hard to tell. The last few days were a blur of places and people and injuries, and I hadn’t slept or eaten with any kind of regularity. “Ah . . . a week ago? Two? I’m not sure,” I admitted.

  “I’ll get you some aspirin. A brace for your wrist is the best I can do, since I’m assuming you don’t want me to take you to the hospital.” I shook my head, and he continued. “I’ll get medical tape for your ribs, but if one of them is broken, the best you can do is not move for a while.” He eyed me. “I take it that’s not an option?”

  I shook my head again.

  “I’m leaving as soon as I can stand again,” I said.

  “To where?”

  “Another dimension,” I said. “Somewhere I might be able to find help.” I’d already told him some of it, after all.

  “I see,” he said, and stood up. He sounded regretful, and offered his hand. I took it with my left one, not really sure why. “Joseph Harker,” he said, “I’ve never been sure if you’re crazy or if I am, but I’m glad to know you either way.”

  “Thank you, sir,” I said, and he paused at the honorific. It was habit for me; I’d gotten used to calling the Old Man that. To his face, anyway. “Mr. Dimas,” I amended.

  “Call me Jack,” he said. “I’m not your teacher anymore.”

  I wasn’t sure what to say, so I nodded. He patted his jacket to make sure he had his wallet, and moved toward the door. “If you can wait on the aspirin, I’ll pick up some extra-strength painkillers.”

  “That’d be great,” I said, though the thought of waiting a few more minutes wasn’t awesome. Still, I’d live, and it would be better for me in the long run.

  “I’ll be back,” he said. I nodded again, even though he wasn’t looking at me anymore, and listened as the front door opened and closed behind him. I heard the click of his key in the lock. I wasn’t sure if he was locking me in or making sure to keep everyone else out. Probably both.

  I’ll admit it: I was nervous about going to anyone for help. Not only was it entirely possible he’d be coming back with some nice men in pristine white coats but there was no telling what kind of trouble I might have brought with me. My enemies had sent me here on purpose, which meant they probably wouldn’t be coming after me . . . probably. There was no way to know for sure. Even aside from that, I had already had one teammate turn on me in recent memory. I was having a few trust issues right now, not that I think anyone would blame me.

  I tilted my head back against the covered couch, listening to the crinkle of plastic around my ears. I was dizzy. What I really needed was to sleep for about a decade, but I’d probably get about an hour. I’d been sent here to witness the destruction of everything. I didn’t know how soon they were planning on making that happen, but I probably couldn’t afford to rest for too long.

  Despite that thought, I must have passed out on the couch while I was waiting for Mr. Dimas—Jack—to get back from the store. One moment I was sitting there, thinking about how I couldn’t rest for long, and the next I was hearing the key in the lock again and realizing I’d fallen asleep.

  And I woke up with a headache, which is pretty much the worst thing ever.

  “How long were you gone?” I asked, as he stepped into my line of sight.

  He looked at his watch. “Twenty-three minutes,” he said, raising an eyebrow at me. “Are you okay?”

  “Water and painkillers,” I said. “Please.”

  He brought me a bottle of water and two maximum-stre
ngth aspirins. I swallowed them both at once, along with probably half the water. Mr. Dimas (I kept thinking of him that way, no matter what he’d said) was laying out supplies on the table: a wrist brace, an Ace bandage, medical tape, butterfly bandages, gauze, disinfectant, etc.

  “Tell me what happened,” he said, sitting on the table across from me and dabbing the disinfectant on the gauze.

  “It’s not going to make much sense to you,” I said apologetically.

  “That’s fine. Just talk to me. This is going to hurt.”

  Oh. I nodded, trying to figure out where to start. I had told him some the last time I’d been home, before I’d made the decision to fully commit my life to InterWorld. . . . “How much do you remember from what I told you before?”

  “I’ve never forgotten it,” he said. “You went missing for a day and a half, and then you came to see me at school one evening with a story about how you’d discovered you could travel through dimensions.”

  “We call it Walking,” I said. He was cleaning the cuts on my wrist left by Lord Dogknife’s claws, and they were starting to sting. A lot.

  “Right. You were being chased by this magic organization . . .”

  “HEX,” I filled in. “They’re the bad guys. One of them, anyway.”

  “And you were rescued by an older version of you, who was killed in the process.”

  “Jay,” I said, the ache of the words and the memories nothing compared to the stinging of my wounds. Thinking of Jay no longer hurt as much as it used to; everything healed eventually. “And I brought his body back to InterWorld. That’s where I met all the other versions of me.”

  “Because you all have the same power,” he said.

  “Right. See, since I have the power to Walk between dimensions, every other version of me in every other dimension has that same power. I don’t know why me—or, why us—but there it is. We can all do it, some better than others. Apparently, I’m . . . pretty good at it.”

  “Which is how you did it by accident at first,” he said, pinching my skin together as he placed a butterfly bandage over the worst of the cuts. I continued to speak, watching him with a vague, detached fascination. “And then you went on a training mission, correct? The one that turned out to be a trap?”