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The Golden Thread

Suzy McKee Charnas

  The Golden Thread

  Sorcery Hall, Book 3

  by Suzy McKee Charnas, Inc.®


  Copyright © 1989 by Suzy McKee Charnas. All rights reserved.

  Original publication: Delacorte, 1989.

  Ebook edition of The Golden Thread copyright © 2011, Inc.

  EPUB ISBN: 978-1-59729-066-1 and the ES design are registered trademarks of, Inc.

  This novel is a work of fiction. All characters, events, organizations, and locales are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously to convey a sense of realism.

  Cover art by and copyright © 2011 Cory and Catska Ench.

  Ebook conversion by, Inc.

  For the full ElectricStory catalog, visit



  This ebook is protected by U.S. and International copyright laws, which provide severe civil and criminal penalties for the unauthorized duplication of copyrighted material. Please do not make illegal copies of this book. If you obtained this book without purchasing it from an authorized retailer, please go and purchase it from a legitimate source now and delete this copy. Know that if you obtained this book from a fileshare, it was copied illegally, and if you purchased it from an online auction site, you bought it from a crook who cheated you, the author, and the publisher.

  This story is entirely fictitious and all of the people and events described are Fig Newtons of the author’s imagination. No resemblance to anybody, living, dead, or somewhere in between, is intended.

  For Fritz, who said, “Why not a book as well as a deed?”




  1: The Hands of Wechsler

  2: The Comet Committee

  3: Leftover Hash

  4: Royal Blue Jeans

  5: Silver Wishes

  6: Tears by Joel

  7: N.U.T.

  8: Sorcerer’s Apprentice

  9: Now Here’s My Plan

  10: Leather Walls

  11: Committed

  12: Vandals and Huns

  13: The Patchwork Fiddle

  14: Power Lines

  15: Left with Check

  16: All the Day They Hunted

  17: Water Music

  18: The Golden Thread

  19: The Hands of Wechsler II

  More YA Titles by Suzy McKee Charnas

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  The Hands of Wechsler

  I GOT A PHONE CALL a little while before Christmas vacation: “Val? It’s Joel. I have to see you.”

  “What?” I said. “Joel? Why?” This was ungracious of me, but I was surprised out of my normally faultless social grace. I hadn’t heard from him since the one and only letter he’d written me right after he started at his new school in Boston. That was months ago, after we had shared an intense and unusual—well, a fantastic—experience with swords and sorcery in Central Park. I had missed him since then. Judging by his long silence, he hadn’t missed me. So why call me now? “Are you here in New York?”

  “No,” he said, “but I’m coming in to stay with my parents for the Christmas break. I want to talk to you. Take you to lunch, okay?”

  Lunch with an older guy! Of course Joel was a friend so in a way it didn’t count, but so what? Besides, I was grateful for the diversion. I had some depressing stuff on my mind. This had not started out to be a great winter for me.

  Maybe it wasn’t so great for Joel, either. He sounded anxious, which made me anxious, too, and very curious.

  When the day came, I sat alone in the lunchtime rush at a coffee shop on Columbus Avenue, snacking out of the little pickle tub on the table. I felt nostalgic. This was the place where Joel and I had had our first real conversation, so it was not only my neighborhood hangout but our place, sort of.

  As the time ambled by, I became less and less good-tempered. I was about to take off, feeling furious over having been stood up, when Joel strode in from the windy street.

  He looked even taller than I remembered—could he still be growing? His chestnut-colored hair was styled in an expensive-looking cut (you could have put whipped cream on that haircut and eaten it). He wore jeans, a parka, and boots. A striped woolen muffler was heaped casually around his neck to hide the mark his violin makes there, and of course to set off his profile.

  It was a thrill to see him and I instantly forgave the long wait he’d put me through. I mean, this was Joel—we had fought real evil together, we had made and lost a great friend and foiled a horrendous monster. I suddenly felt the reality of that adventure (which recently had been getting lost in a tangle of school assignments and general troubles) as if it had happened last week.

  “Hi, Joel,” I said as he sat down across from me. “Still biting your nails, I see.” I meant it affectionately, but words had been coming out of my mouth all wrong lately. Apparently I had just done it again.

  He looked down his long nose at me. “You’ve been eating too much sugar. You’ve got a zit on your chin.”

  Instantly my chin felt on fire. I had visions of a huge headlight blooming there just in time for all the holiday parties. Rudolph the Red-Chinned Reindeer, at your service for Christmas entertaining. Thank you, Joel, for that confidence-boosting observation.

  Up close I noticed that despite the appearance of things, Joel himself did not look so great. His eyes were red-rimmed in dark sockets. And he was not only taller than I remembered, but thinner. Too thin. Skinny.

  I felt a stab of worry, but I wasn’t sure how to express it without having that turn out wrong, too. So I said casually, “How’s music school? It’s funny to see you without a violin.”

  “I’m on vacation, thank God,” he said. “Music school is killing me. The competition is unbelievable.”

  “You’re not thinking of quitting?” I said, astonished. Something was wrong. I mean this was Joel, who lived for music—like the rest of his family.

  “And do what, computers?” he said, sliding down in his chair. He kept his hands stuffed in his parka pockets as if he were cold here in the steamy deli. “Or I could be an investment counselor, like my cousin Devin.”

  “So you’re not thinking of quitting,” I said.

  “I’m not an idiot, you know,” he said. “I was incredibly lucky, getting into a decent music school after goofing off for years. I’m in Leon Tchorkin’s class, for one thing, and I’ve been working with some really first-rate players. Lisa Walker is studying there, did you know that? Oh, no, of course you wouldn’t.”

  This probably wasn’t meant as a put down, but it sure felt like one.

  A waiter wandered over and took our orders. As soon as he was gone, Joel hunched close over the table and said very intensely, “I can do it, Val—catch up, come from behind and win. Except I might go crazy first.”

  Now he sounded like someone I could talk to. “They shouldn’t push you that hard,” I began, but he shook his head impatiently.

  “It’s not that. It’s worse, and it’s got to stop. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t work—”

  “You’re in love,” I said. I wondered what Lisa Walker looked like.

  Joel gave me a weary look.

  “Okay, you’re not in love. So what is it?” I said, trying to make up for stupidity with sincere interest.

  “God, I must be desperate,” he said. “I forgot what a kid you are.”

  I was not delighted to be reminded that Joel was seventeen and attending a college for music students, while I was chasing fifteen and still in high school. “
Joel,” I said, “if you don’t come out and tell me, you’re going to drive me crazy and that’ll make two of us.”

  “It’s my hands,” he said in a low voice. “I have these—these incidents—I sit down to practice and my hands seize up. I can’t play. It’s got me crazed.”

  “Oh, no,” I said, trying not to stare at his hands, which looked perfectly fine to me. He was pulling his paper napkin apart very efficiently for a guy with crippled hands. But if I had wanted serious, this was it, all right. Heck, it was catastrophic! Poor Joel! “How long has this been going on?”

  “A while,” he said, looking quickly away from me.

  “Have you seen a doctor about it?”

  “No,” he said. There was something fishy about the way he mumbled into his scarf and avoided my eyes.

  “You’re not, you know, flashing back to something, are you? I mean, you’ve never taken weird drugs?”

  “No,” he said. “It’s nothing like that.”

  Why did he have that secretive look about him, as if there was something he wasn’t telling me?

  I clammed up, thinking about this, and also because my feelings were hurt. Joel and I had worked magic together, real magic, with Paavo the wizard and my own sorceress grandmother. And that made Joel and me special, even if we had ended up in an argument about how it had all worked out. The real world was not exactly loaded with great sorcerers, magical family talents, and kids who were invited into enchanted battles.

  So what did I have to do to get Joel to trust me enough to tell me all?

  The food came. I concentrated on that. I am an absolute sucker for turkey and ham on rye with coleslaw on top.

  Joel shoved two fat knockwurst around on his plate with his fork.

  “I don’t have time for this!” he burst out. “I take ear-training classes, where they play a piece through three times, and at the end of the three times you have to have written out the score and gotten it right—the notes, the time, the nuances, everything. I keep getting distracted just worrying about my hands. I lose whole bars of the music. It’s like that in all my classes; I’ve even screwed up in English, for God’s sake!

  “And,” he added dolefully, “I’ve had to quit my only fun thing, which is to get together with Lisa and some other people and play chamber music in our spare time. What if this—this thing happened while I was with them? What if they told somebody?”

  Imagine going to music school and spending all your spare time playing more music—and calling it fun! Joel had found a whole bunch of fanatics just like himself. He should be completely happy.

  He put his head in his hands. “What’s going to happen when I have to play my jury at the end of the term?”

  “What’s that?” I said.

  “It’s like finals in any other subject,” he said, “but about a million times worse—a kind of dry run for the major music competitions later on. You play in front of a jury of your peers and they rate you. It’s death. I don’t know how I’m even going to be able to prepare for it, the way things are.”

  “So you’re not quitting but you might flunk out?”

  “I’m dead,” he said, “if things go on like this!”

  I couldn’t stand the idea of Joel cracking up at that school. Catching up in his neglected music studies was only necessary in the first place because of our adventure together. For him to lose it all now—it wasn’t fair. No wonder he was so frazzled!

  “I think you should tell your teacher, or your parents, or someone about this before they find out on their own,” I said.

  “Oh, sure!” He threw his head back and looked me angrily in the eye. “And be sent to some hospital for a lot of stupid tests and miss weeks of class and practice? Who knows what kind of damage they might do, anyhow, x-raying and messing around? Hands are delicate, complicated structures, you know? Nothing doing. And I have told someone. You.”

  “Oh,” I said, flattered but worried. “Listen, Joel, I’m really sorry, but what good does it do to tell me about this—your—”

  “Spells?” Joel said bitterly. “Seizures? It better do some good, because I can’t live like this!”

  Then the explanation hit me: a brain tumor! God. Poor Joel. I couldn’t see any lumps on his head, but with that haircut, who could tell? I swallowed the last bite of my sandwich, trying to think of something useful to say, but my mind was paralyzed.

  “I keep thinking my only hope is to go talk about it with somebody who, well, someone who knows things. Like your Gran, Val.”

  My chin wobbled and I started to cry.

  “Hey, Val, don’t—I’m sorry, what did I say?” he stammered. “I didn’t mean to—Val, what’s the matter?”

  After some frantic shifting around, he stuffed a wad of cloth into my hand.

  “That part’s clean,” he said.

  “Yagh.” I gulped. “What about the other part?”

  But I was impressed. How many boys do you know who even own a handkerchief, let alone carry one around to offer to a crying girl?

  “What did I say?” he begged.

  I told him that my Granny Gran was in the hospital. She’d had a stroke, and she’d been unconscious for almost two weeks. The doctors kept telling my mom and me that there wasn’t much hope that she would recover. Mom was a walking basket case over it. So was I. Two weepy baskets together.

  “Oh, God,” Joel said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

  “How would you know?” I said. “We haven’t been exactly close since you went to Boston. You never even answered my letter.”

  “I meant to,” he said. “Honestly. I kept it. Look, I have it here.”

  He dug an envelope out of an inside pocket and handed it to me. Inside were the pages of notebook paper that I had used to write down some things about our shared adventure that he hadn’t known about at the time, things that had happened to me when Joel had been held prisoner by the enemy.

  Sorcery had swept me up again since then, in an adventure that Joel didn’t know about at all. I felt a lot older than I’d been when we had first met less than a year ago. In magic, anyway, I was a lot more experienced than Joel was even if he was older.

  I shook my head. “I never should have written any of that stuff down. People don’t know anything about magic. Anybody reading that would just think I was insane.”

  “Nobody’s seen it but me,” he said. “Nobody ever will.”

  There it was, on three-hole paper in blue ballpoint: how my little, slightly flaky grandmother was really a great enchantress who had been trained in an otherdimensional academy of magic called Sorcery Hall. Paavo Latvela, her old friend and wizard colleague, had come from there to fight a monster here in New York. I got involved in the struggle, dragging Joel in with me, because of my family talent for magic, descended to me through my Gran.

  “You believed this when you read it?” I said. “About my Gran being an enchantress?”

  Joel clutched his hands together on the table in front of him and stared at them. “I don’t know,” he said somberly. “Meeting Paavo, working with him—that pretty well wiped out my natural skepticism. He was a musician, and I’ve always felt that music is magic anyway, you know? But I’ve never even met your Gran. Maybe I couldn’t believe she was special that way until I needed to. And I need to now.

  “Except you’re telling me it won’t do me any good one way or the other, aren’t you?” He blinked as if he was close to tears, out of sheer frustration and disappointment, I guess. “You’re saying it’s too late. Are you sure, Val?”

  “I think so,” I said. “I think she’s dying.” I felt sick, saying those words out loud. I handed back the letter.

  Joel tucked it away carefully. “I guess I thought—I never expected—” He shook his head in bewilderment.

  “She’s old,” I said.

  “But she’s—well, you know.” He added furtively, “Special.”

  “Sssh,” I said, looking around to see if anyone was near enough to overhear us. My
Gran’s magic powers were secret. “I think the stroke finished everything. She’s out of it, Joel. She just lies there.” Why had he brought this up and made me feel so terrible? “Anyway, she’s not a doctor any more than I am. What did you want her to do for you?”

  “I don’t know,” he said unhappily. “Tell me what to do, I guess. Or maybe fix it, somehow.” He looked at me intently. “Val, if she dies, what happens then? I mean, what about your family talent? Will you still have magic of your own?”

  I shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know, I can’t even ask Gran. I mean, I could ask, but she can’t answer! And what if I did still have the family gift? I wouldn’t dare use it, not without somebody to teach me more about it first. And if Gran dies, who’ll do that?”

  “I don’t understand,” he said. “If she’s got all this power, how can this happen to her? She can’t just—just die, like any ordinary old lady!”

  Which was something I had been asking myself a lot. Now that Joel had asked, the answer—or some kind of answer—jumped right into my unwilling mind.

  “Magic doesn’t make you immortal,” I said. “We both know that.”

  We sat thinking about Paavo Latvela, our wizard friend. He had died grandly and bravely, as Gran had gently pointed out to me afterward. But he had sure died. I’d seen it happen.

  And now Gran herself was teetering on the same edge.

  I said, “Oh, I don’t understand anything, and anyway, it’s not fair!”

  Joel patted my hand awkwardly. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have come around asking for that kind of help. Forget it, okay? It’s nice to see you, anyway.”