Despite Dad’s reassurances that night, I had a nightmare, one of the worst I’d ever had. We were all back at the Commons Yard Sale—me, Kevin and Jake—standing before Mr. Trung’s table. I couldn’t move, frozen in that way we usually are in nightmares. The air felt thick and humid. Everything sounded muffled, as if we stood underwater.

Chanting guttural words, Mr. Trung laid tiles out in overlapping rows. I couldn’t see the engravings on them because they blurred and moved across the ivory. He laid the tiles, arranging them, preparing them . . .

For us to play.

Then Mr. Trung stopped his strange, gurgling song. He stared at each of us in turn. I desperately tried to move my arms, legs, head, something, but I couldn’t. I was locked in place, joints frozen, feet rooted to the ground. Mr. Trung’s eyes—much larger and a deeper black than I’d ever seen—seemed to peel back layers of me until I felt raw, exposed and quivering beneath his gaze.

Mr. Trung reached into the black wooden box and withdrew a single white tile. Turning his gaze to Kevin, he held it up at an angle that wouldn’t allow me to see it. Then, he laid it before Kevin on the table and nodded. Though I couldn’t move and my gaze remained fixed on Mr. Trung’s face, I felt a releasing. Kevin had been freed.

Mr. Trung did the same with me. He reached into the box, withdrew a tile and held it up. The tile’s engraving twisted, turned and shivered. I thought I saw . . . something.

A red dragon.

Or maybe white.

I couldn’t tell. But I felt a sudden, overwhelming sense of freedom. When Mr. Trung nodded and laid the tile before me as he’d done with Kevin, my limbs fell loose and free. I knew that not only could I leave . . .

I had to.

Even if it meant leaving Jake behind.

The worst thing about the nightmare was not what happened to me, it was what I did . . . exactly that. I turned from Mr. Trung and walked away from that table, following Kevin’s receding form, leaving Jake to face his tile alone.

And when Jake’s shrill screams filled the air, I bolted awake, tangled bed sheets sticking to me, my heart thundering in my chest.

I didn’t sleep much the rest of the night.

Related chapters

Latest chapter Protection Status