“You will kill everything and everyone you love,”

says the voice of the Turtle, and now it is a cruel voice, cruel and hard.

Stephen King, Wizard and Glass, part IV of The Dark Tower

Gwen shivered.  She was sitting on the porch of the farmhouse and it was late March, but that wasn’t why she felt cold.  She was thirteen, and she had spent her whole life reading the books in her brother’s room.  She had barely begun to read his notebooks, believing that she needed to understand the way he thought before she read his thoughts, and knowing that the stories he loved said something about the way his mind worked.  Several of the books were too difficult when she had begun at the age of six, but by now she was reading at a university level.  The words from the Dark Tower, now sitting in her lap, resounded through her mind, sending chills into her being.

            She rubbed her arms through her thick sweater, knitted for Ethan years ago by their now dead grandmother.  Gwen refused new clothes whenever her mother brought it up; instead she was working through her brother’s old clothes.  At school two things were discussed when Gwen wasn’t around:  her teachers discussed her uncommonly brilliant academic abilities, and her peers discussed how odd she was, wearing boys’ clothes and talking about books all the time.  No one there knew that these things were born of her quest to understand Ethan, and her parents could not understand it.  He had not been home once in seven years, which Gwen knew hurt her parents deeply.  She alone had faith he would one day come to his senses and return.

            Now that quest seemed scary for the first time.  Many books held fearful chapters, like Gollum or the Ringwraiths in Tolkien’s novels, or Narnia’s Last Battle.  But the heroes always persevered, happy endings always occurred.  She had yet to finish the Dark Tower, but here in the fourth book she had found something that terrified her.  The main character, the Gunslinger, was so intent on his purpose he was willing to sacrifice anything to achieve it, even the people around him.  And the forces driving him on, the things that ran his world, they prophesied that it would be so.  Years of reading had taught Gwen that Ethan identified with the characters in the stories, and now she had to wonder what he saw in the Gunslinger.  Certainly he was as dedicated as any of the other heroes, but he was willing to go beyond dedication, into a place where dark acts were justified if they served his purpose, if they moved him further on the road to the Tower.

            She still remembered the words in his journal about the tiger, and they still frightened her.  Only she and Genevieve suspected that Ethan had a dark side, and she wondered if that was what attracted him to the Gunslinger’s obsessive quest.  The question she had been asking herself lately was, what did Ethan quest for?  What was he willing to sacrifice everything to get?

            It was in this state of mind, staring out over the fields covered in an early morning mist, that Gwen received one of the greatest shocks of her young life.  One moment she was rubbing her arms and staring at empty fields of grass, the next a figure of a man was standing in their front yard.  She shrieked at his sudden appearance.  It was like he had formed from the mists themselves, walking out of the air and into reality. 

He had an unkempt beard and long tangled hair, and though he looked like he had missed his fair share of meals, he possessed a wiry strength in his limbs.  He was dressed in rough cloth tied around his waist by a string or cord.  The man looked about with a calm yet befuddled expression.  He surveyed the yard and house, and Gwen’s heart almost stopped when he finally looked into the porch and his eyes met hers.  Those eyes were the same as Gwen’s own.

“Ethan?” She whispered to herself.

“Gwen?”  He said loudly, stepping closer through the mist.

She burst through the screen door on the enclosed porch, running through the wet grass towards him.  In the back of her mind she realized she was acting like stupid characters in cheesy movies, where they’d run across a field to embrace a loved one, but she didn’t care. Gwen had missed her big brother for far too long to worry about schmaltz.  She opened her arms to hug her brother, expecting to hold him tight.

She was brought up short when she passed through the space he was standing in.  Gwen looked back, and Ethan was still standing there.  He looked at his own arms, confused by his lack of substance and Gwen realized that somehow he was as ethereal as the mists.  She turned to face him.

“Am I dreaming?”  She asked.

“I don’t think so…   I think I am.”  He said, his brow furrowed in thought.  “I can’t explain exactly, but I don’t think I’m really here.  I think I came when I thought of you…”

“Where have you been?  You never come home with Evie…”  Gwen said, feeling tears form in her eyes.  “Don’t you care about us?”

“Gwennie, listen to me.  I haven’t been with Evie since practically the last time I saw you.”  Ethan said in earnest.  “It’s important that you remember this, the man that lives with the others is not me.  You have to tell them…”

Gwen moaned with sorrow as her brother flickered, his body losing even the semblance of substance, she could see right through him like he was a hologram.

“I don’t think I have much time…” He said, and his voice seemed to be fading away as well.  “Remember, Gwen.  He’s not me…”

            She felt tears spill down her cheeks as he dissolved to nothing, lost to her again.  She collapsed to her knees in the grass, not caring that the dew was soaking into her pants as she held herself and cried.  He was gone again.

            Gwen was startled as she heard the steady beat of horses galloping, and then she heard the distinctive rearing neigh of a horse pulled to a stop.  She looked up and saw Genevieve appear on horseback through the mist, but this time her unexpected sibling was solid, as her older sister dismounted and hugged her close.

            “I have so much to tell you…” They both said simultaneously when Gwen’s tears subsided.

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