“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.” – Mary Shelley
The knocking woke me up from a dead sleep.
I sat up, blinking myself awake. The sky outside our porthole-shaped window was still dark, the silhouettes of the redwoods just a shade blacker. Rain lashed at the glass. Wind rocked the Airstream back and forth.
There was that knocking again. I leaned over to wake Ivy. Our beds were so close, they practically touched––
But Ivy wasn't in her bed.
She must have snuck out and forgotten her key. I needed to let her in fast. Our mom was a heavy sleeper – especially if she'd smoked a "medicinal" joint before bed – but there was a limit to what she could tune out.
When I eased open the accordion door to the bedroomette, a river of cold air whooshed over me. I hurried to the front of the trailer where the door was wide open, banging in the wind.
I stepped out onto the top cinderblock stair, straining to see through the rain. "Ivy?" I called into the darkness, but no one answered. The icy wind cut through my pajamas and I shuddered, wrapping my arms around myself. Ivy must have left the door unlocked, and the storm had blown it open.
Still, it creeped me out.
I wasn't used to living in a tin can on the edge of civilization. Our new property bumped up against the state park. We had no neighbors for miles, but hikers, poachers and the occasional homeless person liked to use our land as their playground. Mom said that we were safer out here than if we lived in some apartment in town. Statistically, there were fewer weirdos in the vicinity.
But all it takes is one.
Get a grip, I told myself. I would've woken up if someone had dragged Ivy out of the trailer in the middle of the night. Our beds were like two feet apart. Besides, this was the third time since school started this fall that I'd gotten up before dawn to find her stuffed lion strategically tucked under her quilt, its yellow mane arranged on the pillow as a decoy in the unlikely event that Mom checked in on us.
I shoved my bare feet into my boots and ran around to the other side of the trailer, where we always parked "Spud," our beat-up VW van. But the key was in the ignition as usual and the tires were submerged in troughs of rainwater. The hood felt cold, and I didn't smell the scent of French-fry grease coming off the engine, so it was clear she hadn't driven anywhere. Some friend must have come over to pick her up.
I trudged back inside and closed the door, leaving it unlocked in case she did forget her key. It wasn't like her to be careless, but she'd been acting so weird lately that anything was possible.
I was too worked up to go back to sleep. Besides, I hated being in the bedroomette by myself. It would've been cramped for one person, but somehow, when Ivy was there, she made it feel bigger. I couldn't risk waking Mom by turning on a light. But the sky outside the window was already fading to a steely gray, and I thought I could see well enough to write while I waited for Ivy to get home.
I grabbed my notebook and sat down at our red Formica dining table, uncapping my gel tip pen and flipping to the first blank page. Writing always calmed me down. I'd filled a whole row of marbled composition books with journal entries, poems, and short stories. But right now all I could think about was where on earth Ivy might be.
The clock on the stove read 6:14. The last time she snuck out, she'd crept back in around 3:30, waking me up. Ever since we moved into this trailer, my ears were on hyper-alert, especially at dawn, when the underbrush rustled constantly, owls screeched in the trees, and wild dogs howled back and forth across the park.
Ivy always laughed when I complained about the spooky noises, reassuring me that I had nothing to worry about – just like she used to when I'd wake up from a nightmare after binge-reading horror novels. I imagined her walking through the door now and reassuring me in just the same way: teasing but affectionate.
Feeling a little better, I decided to make some coffee. After staying out all night, she was going to need it. But as I held the carafe under the tap, I realized I had no idea how much coffee to put in the machine. Ivy was our family coffee maker. She took pride in it, groaning at the amount of milk and sugar I dumped in mine. I measured three spoonfuls of grounds, filled the carafe to the three-cup mark, and set it to perk, hoping for the best.
As the water burbled and splurted, I decided: Ivy will be back by the time this coffee is ready. I used to play this same game when we were little and Mom left us alone at home. But when the coffee had filled the pot, there was still no sign of Ivy. I ran water on the dishes that Mom had left in the sink. She'll be back by the time these are cleaned. I scrubbed each one slowly and thoroughly.
I went to empty the trash, which was full of Bryan's empty Coors cans. This brought back memories of the horrible fight between Mom and Ivy the night before. Bryan, Mom's gross boyfriend, had practically moved in with us. He had a habit of coming over during the afternoon, when he knew Mom was at work. Apparently, he was allergic to clothes. He'd take a shower and then strut around in a towel, showing off his hairy ape chest. Needless to say, Ivy and I weren't thrilled about this. Last night, Ivy had finally snapped and called him a pervert to his face.
"If you hate it here so much, you should leave!" Mom had screamed.
Maybe Ivy took her seriously.
Rain pelted the trailer and I shivered.
If only I could just call her. But no – that would've been too easy. People in the African bush had cell phones, but not us. Mom claimed that cell phones were part of a corporate scheme to zap brain cells. Convenient, since we couldn't afford the plans.
A sour taste rose in the back of my throat as I stared into the trees, which stretched for miles in every direction.
If someone came to pick her up, why haven't they brought her back yet?
The question morphed into full-blown panic.
"Mom, get up!" I burst into her room. She grunted, pulling the Indian bedspread over her face. "Ivy's gone!"
"What? Go back to––" she mumbled.
"She's not in her bed and the front door was wide open when I got up." The panic was rising, and fast. "Anyone could have come in and taken her!"
She threw on her old chenille robe and followed me to our room, squinting at Ivy's empty bed.
"I woke up before five and she wasn't here," I said, noticing that the quilt Ivy had sewn from scraps of our grandma's old dresses had been flung aside.
Mom pushed her fingers through the snarls of her blonde hair, her face pale. "She must have snuck out again." She narrowed her eyes as if daring me to defend Ivy. "Yes, Laurel, I know she's been going out at night. I didn't say anything because things have been so tense recently, I wanted to give her some space."
"But the door was unlocked. It was wide open. Don't you think that's weird?"
Mom shut her eyes and massaged the bridge of her nose like she felt a migraine coming. "Bryan must have forgotten to lock it. He left last night because he was so upset with Ivy after what she said."
I exhaled sharply. "Bryan was upset? Well, boo-hoo. It's our home! Ivy is the one who should be mad."
"And I'm sure she'll come back as soon as she cools down." Mom tried to push frizzy red curl out of my face, but I ducked away.
"How? The van is still here! Do you think someone picked her up?"
Mom nodded. "Does she have a new boyfriend?"
"No." I shook my head, marveling at little she knew about our lives. "The guys at school are all completely lame."
"Then maybe she met someone at Ritual Roasters."
"She would've told me." But I couldn't help remembering how Ivy had looked away when I asked where she went in the middle of the night. "I just drive around," she'd answered. But drive around where? Maybe she had been sneaking out to meet a guy she hadn't told me about.
Mom tugged back the tie-dyed curtain at the window and peered out. "She'll be back any minute. I know it."
"What if she got in some guy's car, and she thought she could trust him, but she was completely wrong?" Suddenly, I was sure that this was exactly what must have happened. Ivy was a good judge of character, but I'd heard that true psychopaths could be incredibly charming. I imagined how some guy had chatted her up at the coffee shop where she worked on weekends, and she'd sneaked out for a couple of dates. He'd spent just enough time with her to win her trust, so that she would run out and get into his car, no question. By now, he could have taken her anywhere. Who knew what he was going to do to her? The trailer lurched under my feet.
"We need to call the police," I said. "Some psycho could be torturing her!"
"You're torturing me," Mom said, "and you know it's a bad idea to involve the cops."
I felt a twinge of guilt, knowing that Ivy wouldn't want me involving the police either. We couldn't risk it. Not unless we had to.
Mom wasn't a bad person – really – but she was only seventeen when she had Ivy, and it's like she never fully grew up or something. Three months before graduating from high school, she ran away from home to follow her favorite band, Phish, around the country. She painted faces to earn money for concert tickets, and eventually got to know the musicians, who paid her to her design one of their concert posters, a psychedelic sunrise over silhouettes of the band members.
That was her proudest accomplishment, proof that she could make it as an artist. We still have that print, framed and hanging over our kitchen table. Unfortunately, right after that she got pregnant with Ivy. Our dad was another groupie who'd barely finished high school. He and Mom moved to Eugene, where they stuck it out until she got pregnant with me. That's when he decided to head up to Alaska to try and make some money. He promised to send her child support as soon as he got his feet on the ground, but that never happened, and we hadn't heard from him in years.
Mom kept painting, but since that didn't pay the bills, she had to clean houses on the side, which she hated. She couldn't afford a babysitter, so when she went to work, she'd leave us in the apartment, locking the door and telling us to keep quiet. But I guess we didn't listen, because one day, a neighbor heard us crying and called the cops. When they saw that two little kids had been left all alone in a filthy apartment, Mom got charged with negligence. We were put in foster care, until Grandma came to sort things out, bringing us all back to Cascade to live with her.
But even though Grandma was basically a mom to us all, a social worker was still assigned to our case. For years, this woman named Joan would drop in every month or so, to make sure that we weren't being neglected. We lived in a tidy ranch house, and as long as Grandma was around, Joan was happy. Eventually, when I was ten or eleven, Joan's visits stopped and we almost forgot about her. But after Grandma died last year, and we had to sell her house to pay the medical bills – using what was left to buy this trailer – we got a letter from Child Protective Services letting us know that they were reopening our case. We weren't sure what that meant exactly. No one had been out to visit the trailer yet. But Ivy and I had agreed that it didn't look like much of a home for two teenaged girls. We didn't want to give them any further cause to find our mother negligent.
Our life may not have been the textbook definition of stability, but it seemed impossible to think that they could take us away. After all, Ivy was the same age that our mother had been when she had us, and I was about to turn sixteen. It's not like we could be placed in some Dickensian orphanage. Still, I had three years of high school left, and I was not taking chances. The only thing I remembered about that brief period in foster care was the fact that I'd been separated from Ivy, because they couldn't find a home to take both of us.
No matter what, I could not let that happen again.
So I told myself that Mom was right. Ivy was old enough to come and go as she pleased, and super responsible. Maybe she wanted Mom to worry about us for a change instead of the other way around, and that was why she'd stayed out all night.
"Look," Mom said. "When she gets home, I'll talk with her. But right now, I need you to lay off." Her hand shook as she poured herself a mug of coffee. She sat down heavily at the table and took a sip of coffee. Her nose wrinkled.
"It tastes like boiled dirt, doesn't it?" I said, collapsing across from her.
She gulped down half the mug, forcing a smile. "It's fine," she said. "Now go get ready for school."
I took a shower, lingering under the lukewarm dribble. She'll be back when I finish getting dressed, I told myself. But when I came out of the bedroomette, Mom was still alone, pulling eggs out of the mini-fridge. The clock said 7:21.
"Mom! Where is she?"
"She must have gone straight to school." Mom cracked an egg against the side of the pan, smashing it so hard that she crushed it. Instead of looking at me, she concentrated on picking out the bits of shell. "If she wanted to give me a scare, it's working. You tell her that when you see her there."
"But how am I supposed to get there?"
"I guess you'll have to drive."
"But I can't!"
"Sure you can. Ivy's been giving you lessons all year, and you have your permit. It's basically the same thing."
"Not in the eyes of the law," I said, but she wasn't listening. "You could drive me," I suggested.
"That's not a good idea." Mom fingered her Eye-of-Ra pendant. She stroked it whenever she was stressed, convinced that its "ancient wisdom" would rub off, even though she'd found it downtown on Miner Street, at a store called Forbeaddin', in a bin with dozens exactly like it. "If I got caught, it would be a misdemeanor. I could end up in jail, and then I'd lose the two of you for sure."
I sighed, knowing she was right. "But what if I get caught?"
"I don't think it would be that big of a deal, since you don't have any kind of record and you are about to turn sixteen. Just be extra careful and don't get pulled over."
"Thanks for the helpful tip." I wanted to roll my eyes, but without Ivy there, what was the point?
I had zero appetite, but I managed to choke down a few bites of Mom's "eggs scallopini." This was practically the only thing she ever cooked – just eggs scrambled with whatever wilted vegetables happened to be lying around – but she always pronounced it with a flourish, like it was something truly special.
As I ate, I told myself that Ivy would be at school. After all, she never skipped class unless she was seriously sick. But when I went to grab my coat from our tiny closet, Ivy's favorite black denim jacket – the one she wore like a uniform – was hanging there. I knew Mom would say this didn't prove a thing, but I bit my lip so hard I tasted blood. I just knew that something was wrong.
Something was really wrong.
“Sparked is a masterful mélange of action, the supernatural, and teen romance. Every character is unique and every twist is unexpected. The story, told with wit and candor, just kept accelerating until its rip-roaring ending. I tore through this book.”
– Katie Crouch, author of New York Times bestseller Girls in Trucks and The Magnolia League series
“A rush of missing sisters, supernatural powers, breathless crushes, ancient prophecies and deadly secrets revealed at glamorous parties...spooky and fun!”
– Daniel Handler aka Lemony Snicket, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events
“Sparked is that rare thing – a gripping mystery with psychological depth. It's a hauntingly accurate portrayal of the complex relationships between sisters and the lengths that the younger will go to save her older sister. I was riveted from the beginning and hooked to the satisfying end.”
– Erica Lorraine Scheidt, author of Uses for Boys