“Wake up. Dan! I think there’s someone in the house.”
Dan Brown opened his eyes groggily as his wife shook his shoulder and came fully awake when her whisper sharpened in tone.
“I don’t hear —” he started but stopped and sat up when there was a thump downstairs. He looked at Fiona, his wife. “It might be Abbie.”
Their sixteen-year-old daughter was not known for roaming the house at, he peered at the bedside clock, 3 AM. Fiona looked doubtful, and then grabbed his arm as a long scraping sound filtered up through the floor.
“I’ll check it out,” Dan said, grabbing a baseball bat from under the bed as he quietly got to his feet. He’d never played baseball, but the bat was a solid piece of wood and good for defense. Fiona’s father had given it to him as a birthday present shortly after they’d gotten married. The man was obsessed with baseball.
Dan took a breath and expelled it slowly before opening the master bedroom door, leaving it slightly open behind him as he crept into the hallway. He paused at Abbie’s door, opening it as quietly as possible and peeking inside.
She was sprawled out on her twin bed, one bare foot sticking off the side as she slept. Sammy, her aging Jack Russell terrier, looked up reproachfully from his spot at the foot of the bed.
“Sorry,” Dan whispered, and Sammy put his nose back down between his forelegs, dark eyes watching as the door was closed again.
There was another bump from downstairs.
Dan tightened his grip on the bat and walked back toward the stairwell, passing the master bedroom. Fiona’s pale face greeted him at the doorway, her blonde hair mussed as she peered out at him.
“Is it Abbie?” she said softly, and Dan shook his head.
“Stay up here,” he replied, passing the door and starting down the stairs.
The house was dark, as he expected, but he had excellent night vision and was not worried about being taken by surprise. The entry and living room were both empty, but there was a glimmer of brightness around a corner where the kitchen was. Almost as if there was a television on, moving pictures flickering light against a wall.
Of course, there was no television in the kitchen.
Dan walked forward slowly, his bare feet making no noise on the floor as he progressed toward the kitchen. When he rounded the corner he saw several things at once.
First, he saw the light was coming from an oval shape as big as a door, hanging in midair in the back of the kitchen. It shone with a faint, bluish light, and had the appearance of water, rippling in a breeze. If the surface of the water was perpendicular to the ground, of course.
Second, there was a woman with long hair standing by the sink. A filmy dress brushed the top of her feet, and when she turned toward him, he was shocked to see that it was his daughter, Abbie.
Except of course it couldn’t be, she was asleep, upstairs.
“Hello Daddy,” the doppelgänger said sweetly, her brown eyes flashing green.
“Who is it,” came Fiona’s whisper from the living room. “Did you find anyone?”
“Just stay back,” Dan said tightly, focused on the teenaged person in front of him. The changeling, a Fae duplicate of his daughter that he thought had been gone for good over eight years previously, thrust its hand toward him and he was thrown sideways into the refrigerator by an unseen force.
“I’m calling 9-1-1!” shouted Fiona, rounding the corner to the kitchen with her cell phone held high in her hand, facing whatever it was she would find. “I —”
Dan struggled to get to his feet as the changeling grabbed him by the shoulders and slammed him with inhuman strength headfirst into the cabinets. Shocked at the sight of her daughter tossing her husband around the kitchen, Fiona froze in place.
Upstairs, Sammy started barking. The changeling looked up sharply, and took the dazed Dan by the ankle, dragging him across the slate tile toward the shimmering oval.
The bat had fallen from Dan’s hand and rolled across the kitchen, and there was blood dripping into his eye as he scrabbled to grab onto something, anything. A fingernail broke when he snagged it on a drawer, half-opening it with a clatter of silverware before he lost his grip.
Fiona clutched at Dan’s outstretched hands, pulling backward as the changeling walked inexorably forward. He looked up at her blue eyes, trying to blink away the blood that half-blinded him, trying to tell her to let him go, but it was too late.
The changeling hissed through its teeth as it reached the portal, stepping through. As Dan’s foot touched the surface the magic took hold of him, pulling his body rapidly, as if he’d been tied to a truck. Fiona’s breath caught as she struggled to hang on to his hand, her feet slipping on the tile.
“No—!” managed Dan, trying to free his hand from hers, and then he was through the portal, all the air squeezed out of him for a moment before he fell unceremoniously to the ground on the other side.
A moment later his wife, still holding his hand, tumbled through after him.
“Well, well, well.”
A familiar voice drew near as something cold was clasped around Dan’s neck and locked into place. [Name redacted for book 1 spoilers] knelt beside him, looking down at Fiona.
“This got a little more complicated. I’m sorry, old friend.”