The Year’s Midnight

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A reverse portal contemporary fantasy

The Year’s Midnight

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Release Date : September 28, 2021

ISBN Number : 978-1-61138-979-1

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Description

Neumeier gives us new worlds and new beginnings in a reverse portal contemporary fantasy.

A gifted psychiatrist, Daniel Dodson is perfectly aware that he’s in a tough place personally following the death of his wife. Then a mysterious new patient offers a welcome professional distraction.

The world of swords and magic that Tenai so vividly remembers obviously can’t be real. The deadly enmity and long war that left such deep emotional scars plainly symbolize something else. But perhaps Daniel can use the signposts of those confabulated memories to aid Tenai in moving forward into a new life in the real world.

Death’s Lady Book One

REVIEWS

This was a beautiful, enthralling series. The story reminds me of Patricia McKillip with the same lyrical, rich voice.
-Goodreads

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Rachel Neumeier started writing in graduate school as a break from research, but years ago allowed her hobbies to take over her life. Along with writing both adult and young adult fantasy, she now gardens, cooks Indian food, breeds and shows Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and occasionally finds time to read. Her young adult novel, The Floating Islands, was a Junior Library Guild selection and was selected by Kirkus Reviews as a best book of the year. Her most recent titles include Tuyo and the Death’s Lady series.

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Tenai told Dr. Dodson, long after the event, that her first vision of her new world was of light. Light laid over darkness: she stepped out of a cold midwinter night, and found the starlit darkness she left behind was nothing like the shattering confusion of headlights and streetlamps and glaring reflections she entered. Half-blinded, surrounded by bewildering violence—the squeal of brakes, the shattering crash of one vehicle into another, shouts of alarm and anger—Tenai left her dangerous sword Gomantang buried in the hood of a gray Ford truck, there in the middle of the intersection into which she had stepped.

In time, Daniel Dodson got the sword back for her. The police found reasons to return it when the request made its way to them—after all, no major crime had been committed with it, and besides, somehow no one really wanted to keep this particular sword near at hand. Daniel did not give the sword back to Tenai right away. When he showed it to her, she smiled her narrow, secretive smile and agreed that it might be as well if he kept it for a time.

“Gomantang was forged in the dark country,” she told him. “He is not a kindly weapon, but his song can be sweet. I would not suggest you put him where your daughter can touch him, Doctor.”

“I’ll leave it in my office here. But you keep your hands off it too,” said Daniel, who by that time was comfortable with her, and Tenai smiled again and said, “I will not touch him until you give him to me, doctor; but you do not touch him, either. Yes?” And of course Daniel agreed.

That was how Tenai spoke, once she decided to speak: with a turn of phrase that struck the American ear as odd and foreign. She might actually have been foreign; no one could tell. She was a dark woman: dark of hair and eyes, skin of an ambiguous shade that made it hard to mark her race on the hospital forms. She was dark of mood as well, and capable of violence when she wished; tall enough to be intimidating—an inch or so taller than Daniel himself. She was not beautiful, but she compelled attention.

***

Tenai had come into Dr. Dodson’s care raging with a fury so tightly contained that a casual glance might have judged her calm. She was not calm. Daniel did not need to be told this. He knew it from the first moment he saw her.

He inherited her three months after her arrival at Lindenwood, from Dr. Margaret Wilson, who was moving to a research hospital with the intention of concentrating on theory for a while. Daniel could understand that. Clinical work with real patients carried real consequences. Even a place like Lindenwood was harder on the heart than research. So many patients here would never really be well. A doctor could burn out on this work.

He had never intended to return to clinical work himself. He had expected to remain in an administration position—or possibly accept that teaching position at Yale. Something that would give him time to write. But here he was.

“Jane can be violent,” Maggie warned him. At that time, they did not know her name. She was on the hospital records as Jane Doe IV. “Be careful of her, Daniel.”

“But you have her out on the low-security ward.” Daniel let a questioning note enter his voice.

“She’s easier to handle down here.” Maggie grinned, a warm, good-humored grin that showed in her eyes. “You’ll find out, Daniel. We tried her on Anafranil. Bad call: it kicked her into a more violent mode instead of settling her down. We damn near lost her right then, but fortunately we all got ourselves calmed down just in time.”

“Sounds exciting.”

“Yeah, you have no idea. These days, the staff knows how to manage her. Watch them with her. You’ll do all right with her too, I expect. In fact, that’s one reason I suggested Russell give you a call when I heard you were, um, at loose ends.”

Russell Martin was the director of the hospital. Daniel hadn’t yet met him; he was out this morning and wouldn’t be back until early in the afternoon. Maggie gave Daniel a thoughtful look at odds with her casual tone. She added, “Russell’s a good guy. He really is. You already know this place is one of a kind. Wallace might’ve had the money and the strings to pull, but Russell’s the guy who set Lindenwood up and keeps it going. Wallace knew what she was doing when she got him for the job. I’m telling you, you’ll get along fine.”

A very wealthy woman named Suzanne Wallace had founded Lindenwood, endowed it, lined up a board of trustees in line with her vision, persuaded Martin to take the directorship, and set the whole thing up with the director running the board, not the other way around. Daniel knew all that. He was skeptical that any institution, even a small, privately funded, one-of-a-kind institution, could live up to Maggie’s sales pitch. But … he’d needed a place to go. A place to start, if not over, at least forward. Whatever else it might be, Maggie had promised—and Daniel believed—that Lindenwood was nothing like Belfountaine.

“All right,” he said.

Maggie was going on. “This particular Jane won’t tolerate doctors who go off on power trips. She doesn’t gladly suffer fools. She doesn’t like anybody trying to control her.”

Daniel snorted, and Maggie rolled her eyes. “I know. Don’t say it. Not the best traits for an institutionalized patient, even here. She’ll do better with you than she has with me, I hope.”

Daniel clicked his tongue reprovingly. “Maggie, have you been bullying the patients again?”

She laughed and shook her head. “You’ve been working with mutism, I mean. If you can get her talking, she might be all right. If you can’t, she’ll likely be out at the end of June. Six months for a charity patient, that’s the rule, which is a damn sight more generous than most; you don’t have to tell me that. But put this one out on the street and she’ll probably assault somebody, kill somebody, who knows. If she goes to prison, she’ll kill somebody for sure. There’s no way this woman could take the pressure in a place like that. She’d sink like a stone.” She made an eloquent gesture, Down she’ll go.

Obviously she thought this Jane Doe was worth saving, if they could do it. “Elective, you think?”

Maggie shrugged. “Yeah, my guess is, there’s nothing organic wrong with her. I think it’s all history. And a good dose of pure cussedness. She talked for the first couple days, just not English. Not Spanish, either. Nobody could figure out what lingo she was slinging. Then she shut up like a clam. Not one word since. She’s a real mystery. You’re good with the weird ones. Wait till you read her admissions history. Serious nuttiness. You’ll love it.”

“Sounds exciting.” Daniel honestly was getting intrigued by this description.

“Oh, yeah. Her whole record makes exciting reading. The police tried to trace her, figure out who she is, but no dice. No fingerprints on file or hits from missing persons or DNA matches or whatever they do these days. If anybody anywhere is missing this woman, they haven’t said so loud enough for it to make waves.”

“How’d she wind up here?”

“Oh, you know how it goes, the state hospital was full up, and everyone knows we take half a dozen charity cases a year, whatever Russell can manage. But he does like to patch ’em up and move ’em out if he can. The board gets antsy if he tries to hang onto one for more than six months, and he likes to keep the board happy when that’s reasonable. Keeps everything purring along smoothly, he says, and he’s not wrong. Plus, this time we haven’t even come up with a good diagnosis. I’ve been juggling a handful of lame-ass guesses that don’t really fit. You can read all about it in her file, but I’d suggest you meet her first, get a feel for her, maybe you’ll figure her out better if you don’t get yourself tangled up by a bunch of bullshit theories.”

“Maggie, you’re a fine diagnostician.”

“Yeah, you can say that now. I hope you do reach her. Three months doesn’t give you much time, but if anybody can do it, I’m betting you can. I leave it all to you,” Maggie finished, with a dramatic wave of her hand that encompassed the small office she was bequeathing to Daniel, and all that went with it: names and histories and all the various miseries several dozen human beings could suffer, crammed into a pair of black filing cabinets. “Enjoy.”

“Right,” said Daniel.

“You’ll do great.” She hesitated, just enough of a pause and just awkward enough for Daniel to guess what was coming. “And … how are you?”

“Fine, Maggie.”

“I was sorry to hear about Kathy. More sorry than I can say.”

“Yes,” Daniel said distantly. “Thank you. I appreciated your card.” He had tensed despite himself, waiting for the pain. But that, too, seemed at the moment distant. Lindenwood, at least, held no memories. And it was the nights that were worst, anyway.

“And Jenna? How’s she holding up?”

“She’s stopped asking when Mommy’s coming home. This new start … I needed it, but I think Jen needed it more.” He didn’t mention the nightmares, the tantrums, the tears, all the volatile flotsam and jetsam thrown up by this particular storm. All that had been tapering off anyway over the past few months. This move had helped. He thought it had. He said instead, “She’s bouncing back faster than I am, I think.”

“Kids are resilient. They have to be.”

“Ain’t that the truth.” Both doctors were silent for a moment, thinking about that. Both of them saw proof every day that all resilience had limits.

After a moment, Maggie added, “And the aftermath must have been rough on you, too. Though Russell’s lucky to have you here. It’s an ill wind, they say, but yours was … kind of a hurricane.”

“That doesn’t matter, Maggie.”

“All right.” There was another slight pause, not quite so awkward this time because they were over the hard part. “Move in okay? Got yourself settled?”

“Yes, pretty well.” Daniel was more than happy to switch to small talk. “We’re renting right now, but I’ll buy a place as soon as I have a chance to look around a little. Someplace near a good school, I guess. I’ve got Jenna at St. Paul’s right now.”

“That’s good. All the Catholic schools around here are good—speaking as a mom myself. You Catholic?”

“Episcopalian. But Kathy was Catholic.” He got his wife’s name out with only a little difficulty. “Jenna’s always been in Catholic schools. I didn’t want to change that, on top of everything else.”

“St. Paul’s is a fine school. Its high school is good, too. My oldest is graduating from high school this year. How time flies, hey? Have me over for coffee sometime and we’ll catch up for real, okay? No shop talk—we’ll talk kids and schools and stuff, how about it?”

“That sounds wonderful. I’ll take you up on that.”

“Sure. And in the meantime, give me a call if anything comes up. Don’t hesitate.” Maggie Wilson gave him a brisk nod and was gone.

She left him with a … not a warm feeling, precisely, but a feeling that the emotional landscape might not be altogether bleak. She’d done it on purpose, Daniel thought: Maggie had always been quick and accurate with off-the-cuff therapies. Maybe he would take her up on that offer of coffee and informal family chat.

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