Read An Excerpt

WITHER
by Lauren DeStefano

Genre: Paranormal, Young Adult

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I’m happy when Cecily is well enough to get out of bed. I follow her to the sitting room and watch as she sets a slide into place on the keyboard and begins to play. Her music brings the hologram to life, like a floating television screen. A green field dotted with poppies, and a cobblestone blue sky with moving white clouds. I am sure this is a replica of a painting I’ve seen in one of the library books, something impressionistic as the artist began the slow descent into madness.

The baby lays on the floor, staring up, the lights from the illusion flickering about his face. The winds thrash the grass and the poppies and the faraway bushes this way and that, until everything is one grayed-over tangle of color. A delirium. Smears of wet paint.

Cecily has lost herself. Her eyes are closed. The music streams out of her fingers. I concentrate on her young face, her small, slightly parted mouth, her thin eyelashes. The colors of her song do not reach her where she sits poised over the keys, and I do not think the illusion matters to her. She’s the most real thing in this room.

Her son makes uncertain faces and wriggles in place, unsure what to do with all this splendor. As he grows, he will see many illusions. He will watch paintings come to life as music plays for him, and see his father’s houses spin, and dive into schools of guppies and great whites in the swimming pool. But I don’t suppose he will ever know the ocean lapping up around his ankles, or run for shelter in a warm spring rain, or lay on his back in the grass as a spool of kite string unravels in his hands.

The music fades; the winds calm; the illusion folds in on itself and dies.

Cecily says, “I wish we could have a real piano. Even the dumpy orphanage had a real piano.”

Jenna, standing in the doorway with her mouth and hand full of shelled pistachios, says, “’Real’ is a dirty word in this place.”