MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
At the very center of the town of Four Points, there was a shop called the Fifth Point.
The Fifth Point was a shop, yes, but one that had never sold a single thing. It was small and square and brick and tucked between a coffeehouse and a launderette so that the air around it always smelled both bitter and sweet.
On each of the shop’s four sides, there was a display window, with panes of glass so grimed and grubbed and smudged that nothing on display could possibly be seen. And next to each window, there was a door.
And above each door hung a wooden sign, with script that had once been glinty gold but was now tarnished and spotted. The signs all read:
The Fifth Point
Open by Appointment Only
How to make an appointment, the signs didn’t say. What the shop sold and who owned it, the signs didn’t say that either. And almost no one in Four Points knew, because almost no one in Four Points had ever been inside the Fifth Point.
But plenty of people had been above it.
Because rising out of the top of the Fifth Point was a twisting, tapering, midnight-black iron spire that blossomed—high above the other shops, high above the town of Four Points—into a star-shaped platform.
And on all four corners of the shop, welded to the roof, fixed and firm, there were ladders. Ladders with this message engraved on their eye-level rungs:
Come right up, dear souls.
See the lights above.
Grow the Light inside.
And inside the Fifth Point, someone was watching and waiting, watching and waiting, always watching and waiting for the right ones to come and see and grow.
If the flyer had not been stuck to the school’s front door, Alma Lucas would never have noticed it. She was in a hurry, after all.
Alma was in a hurry because it was the end of the school day. The bell had just rung, and the halls were filling with students, more and more with every passing second.
This was how almost every one of her episodes had happened—in these halls, full of students.
And more than anything else, Alma did not want to have another episode.
She was also distracted, even more so than usual. She was distracted because last night after dinner she’d had the Discussion with her parents. And she’d been turning the words over in her head all day long.
Over and over and over and over.
The Discussion had gone like this:
“So, Alma,” her father said, lacing his fingers together the way he did when he was about to say something serious. “Let’s check in. It’s been three months since we moved. It’s been more than two months since your last episode. How do you think you’re acclimating to Four Points?”
Alma, staring at her plate of barely touched pasta, imagined herself in a vast and snow-filled tundra wearing a swimsuit. That was how she was acclimating. Like it was negative one million degrees and she was dressed for a pool party.
But she didn’t want to tell her father that. She didn’t want to tell him the truth. The truth, she knew, would only lead to more Discussions.
“Alma?” her father said. “Are you listening?”
“I am,” Alma replied. “And I think that I’m acclimating really well. The weather’s good. That’s what I think.”
She hadn’t been smiling before, but she smiled then. It made her face feel strange, like she’d put on a very tight mask.
“I’m glad to hear that,” her father said. “I’m sure you understand why your mother and I have been worried.”
“I do,” Alma said. “I certainly do. Who wouldn’t be worried? But you shouldn’t be.”
Alma’s father held up one finger. “We’re worried about the notes from your teachers.” Two fingers. “We’re worried that you still don’t want to leave the house.” Three fingers. “We’re worried that you aren’t trying to make friends.”
“I am trying,” Alma replied. “I try all the time. All day. I am always, always trying to acclimate.”
In the past, Alma’s father had sometimes gotten a little too intense at this point in the Discussion, asking exactly how she was trying and exactly what she planned to do differently. So now Alma’s mother took over.
“We know you are, Alma Llama,” she said. “But three heads are better than one, am I right? So why don’t we think together of new ways to try?”
Alma’s mother smiled at her. Alma doubted that her mother ever felt like she was wearing a mask. Her mother was the kind of person who smiled a lot and who meant it every time.
“Maybe you could sit with a new group at lunch?” her mother suggested. “Say hello? Smile? Play a sport? Join a club? That’s an easy one—why don’t you join a club? Or even—even go for a walk outside?” Her chin rested on her fist, one finger tapping her lips, as if she had just come up with these ideas.
She had not just come up with these ideas. She said the same thing every time they had the Discussion.
And every time they had the Discussion, Alma reacted the way she had last night; she smiled and she nodded. She smiled and she nodded even as she felt the bright stuff inside her, the stuff that she imagined made her herself—her Alma-ness—grow dimmer and dimmer and dimmer.
Last night’s Discussion ended the way it always did too. Alma’s father, his forehead furrowed and his hands laced up tight again, said, “I know that the move and James going off to college have been difficult, but it is imperative that you do something, that you make an effort. This is our home now. You must try, Alma.”
Alma nodded and smiled and said, “I am trying. I really am. I really, really am.”
Later, she had gone up to her new room that was the wrong color and curled up under her new bedspread that was too scratchy. She had lain awake for hours, listening to the thoughts that came over and over and over, like they did every night.
She had lain awake and felt dark inside, Alma-less inside.
Because the last episode hadn’t been more than two months ago, like she’d told her parents. The last episode had been the day before.
And the episodes—they were never going to stop.
And she was never going to make new friends.
And this place was never going to feel like home.
And there was nothing, nothing, nothing to be done.
So that day, the day she saw the flyer, Alma was in a hurry and she was distracted. She had leaped up from her seat and raced out of her last class as soon as the bell rang, as she always did. She was running down the hall, as she always did. Her eyes were on the finish line—the handle of the front door.
Then her hand was on the door, and her eyes were just above.
And then there were stars.
Text copyright © 2020 by Jess Redman
Map credit © JP Coovert