Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Fiction  ➡  Fantasy  ➡  Epic

Max Hamby and the Blood Diamond - Free 10 Chapters

Max Hamby

The Blood Diamond

Book 1

Kathy Cyr

Shakespir Edition

Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.

Dr. Seuss

My heart & inspiration – Rey, Justin, Krista

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with.

Copyright © 2014 Kathy Cyr. All rights reserved. Including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof, in any form. No part of this text may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the author.

Table Of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

1

Squeak. Cluck. “Time to wake up.” Squeak. Squeak. Cluck. “Time to wake up.”

Max rolled over and snatched the alarm clock off the bedside table by its neck. The large plastic chicken flapped its wings and opened its beak. Squeak. Cluck. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and focused on the clock in its stomach.

Seven-thirty. He dropped the chicken on the bed, threw off the covers and groaned. The museum field trip.

The day hadn’t even started yet and he was already in trouble. His seventh grade teacher, Ms. Higgins, was a stickler for punctuality and handed out more passes to the principal’s office than any other teacher in school.

Max threw on his clothes from the day before, snatched up his backpack and raced out the door. It was quiet, except for the thud of his sneakers on the pavement. He charged up the street. The residents of Pleasant Seas were still asleep, except for one, the caretaker. There was never a good time to come face to face with Mr. Scrine. He was bent over, tending to several flowerbeds at the end of the road. Max took the corner a little too fast and squashed a few of his prized petunias. Mr. Scrine roared with anger and threw up his hands.

“Sorry,” he yelled, over his shoulder He sprinted down the street and turned the corner toward the school, then grunted with frustration. The bus was already there and a line had begun to form. No kid wanted to be last in line on a school field trip. Last meant sitting with Ms. Higgins at the front of the bus or worse, next to Milo Jenkins, whose only interest in life were the mythological creatures in his precious dragon dictionary. His fascination with myth and magic made him a bully magnet.

Max spied a group of kids running across the schoolyard and ran the last few feet to grab his spot in the line, then smiled to himself. One of them would be sitting with Ms. Higgins today and it wouldn’t be him. Laughter rang out from the front of the line. He knew who it was, but leaned over anyway. Tommy Gooch hovered by the door. The class bully and his brainless twin brothers laughed and pointed at the kids waiting to get on the bus. He scooted to the right and hoped the girl in front of him would hide his face with her bushy, red hair. He peered over her shoulder to make sure Tommy and Ms. Higgins hadn’t spotted him.

“I said fifteen minutes before the bus arrives, Mr. Hamby. You’re late,” Ms. Higgins announced. Max jumped with a start and sucked in a mouthful of hair. The red-haired girl whipped around and angrily jerked away from him. Ms. Higgins peered over her glasses and frowned.

“Sorry, Ms. Higgins,” he said, quietly. The last thing he wanted to do was get the Gooch brothers attention, but it was too late.

“Sorry, Ms. Higgins,” said Tommy, in a high-pitched girly voice. His brothers snorted with laughter.

“There will be none of that, gentlemen,” warned Ms. Higgins, checking off a name on her clipboard.

“Yes, ma’am,” snorted Tommy, elbowing his brothers. They grew quiet when she lifted an eyebrow in their direction.

The doors of the bus swung open and the line began to move. “Up you go, Mr. Hamby,” said Ms. Higgins, motioning for him to move forward. “Do not dilly-dally.” The Gooch brothers sneered as they waited for him to pass. Max hesitated. He could tell by the look on their faces, they had something planned. Whether it was to trip him or cover him in spitballs, he wasn’t sure. Thankfully, Ms. Higgins ushered them to the back of the line before they had a chance to do anything. He breathed a sigh of relief and got on the bus. Almost all of the good seats in the middle were taken. He scanned the rows for an empty seat. The back of the bus was empty, but no one dared sit there. Those seats were reserved for Tommy and his brothers. Everyone knew that. It was an unspoken rule. A few kids had tried it in the past, but quickly learned a painful lesson and never tried it again. He spied an empty seat closer to the front, but still in the middle and headed for it. A sudden kick from behind sent him sailing face first onto the bus floor. His cheek and jaw connected with the hard rubber mat and sent shock waves of pain through his head.

“What is the hold up?” Ms. Higgins called out.

“Maxi-Pad hasn’t learned how to walk,” snorted Tommy. The other kids joined in and laughed with him.

“Mr. Gooch, watch your language,” called Ms. Higgins.

Max felt his face grow hot and wished he’d stayed in bed. He picked himself up and hurried to his seat. He rested his head against the window and waited for the pain in his face to pass. Tommy leaned in and gave him a generous whiff of his rancid breath. “What’s the matter? Maxi-Pad fall down and go boom?” He howled like a hyena and made his way toward the back of the bus. A few seconds later, a shower of spitballs hit the back of his head. He wiped them away and slumped in his seat to get out of the line of fire. Thankfully, the Gooch brothers switched targets. Milo Jenkins made the mistake of choosing a seat in front of them and quickly became a pawn in their game of keep-a-way with his backpack.

Max stared out the window and tried to ignore the growing chaos behind him. His stomach growled painfully. There had been no time to eat breakfast and lunch was hours away. He closed his eyes and tried to ignore it. Before long, the bus stopped with a sudden lurch. His backpack sailed off the seat and he slid forward whacking his bruised cheek. The other kids started to stand up. He grabbed his backpack and pushed his way past. He did not want to be kissing the bus floor again and made sure he was one of the first ones in line to get off.

“Alright children, single file, please. You will remain with the class at all times. There will be no touching, running, or fooling around. If you cannot follow these simple rules, you and your parents will meet with me in the principal’s office after school. Is that clear?”

A collective “Yes, Ms. Higgins” rang through the bus. “Okay then, let’s go. I believe this will be a most interesting day for all.” Max stepped off the bus and looked around. Interesting wouldn’t have been the word he chose.

The group gathered in the entryway and were greeted by a stocky, scraggly-haired man in a navy suit jacket. The man announced that he would be their tour guide for the day and led them to the first exhibit. A hairy caveman with a spear stood over a cowering saber tooth tiger. Max scratched his head and grimaced. The exhibit wasn’t accurate at all, considering the tiger’s teeth and paws were bigger than the caveman’s head.

By the third exhibit, every kid began to yawn and fidget. Laughter echoed through the museum from the back of the group. No one had to look to know it was the Gooch brothers. The tour guide stopped talking, clasped his hands together and waited till it was over. There was another burst of laughter. The tour guide’s jaw tightened and his face flushed bright red. They quieted down and the tour guide continued.

The low, monotonous tone of his voice had a lulling effect and Max found himself entranced by a mole buried within the wrinkles on Ms. Higgins’ neck. The thick hair in the center of the mole waved at him every time she moved her head. It wiggled from side to side. A sudden hit to the back of his head caused him to stumble forward toward the hairy mole. He held his breath and backed up slowly. A slimy wetness dripped down the back of his neck. He cringed and brushed the spitball away before it slid down his shirt. It landed on the floor with a splat. He imagined smashing the spitball in Tommy’s face. Two more spitballs landed in his hair. He gritted his teeth and wiped them off. The laughter behind him grew.

Ms. Higgins whipped around. “Is there something you’d like to share, gentlemen?” she hissed. Her face flared red with anger and the veins in her neck twitched. She glared a warning at the Gooch brothers and then turned around to continue listening to the tour guide.

After passing two more exhibits and tripping over his broken laces for the fourth time that morning, Max moved off to the side to tie his sneakers. He crouched down and glanced into the dimly lit room beside him, curious as to why the tour guide passed it by. A small exhibit stood in the center of the room. He stood up and read the sign posted on the wall. Rare Gems of the World. He leaned in to get a better look, but was too far away to see what was inside the glass case. His body jolted forward with a piercing pain to his lower back. He stumbled through the room, skidded across the floor and smacked his knees into a wooden stand. The impact echoed through the room.

“It’s the principal’s office for you, Maxi-Pad.” Max glanced over his shoulder to see Tommy closing the door. “No, wait,” he shouted. He gripped the display case and tried to pull himself up, but his lower back and knees throbbed painfully. He had to get back to the group before Ms. Higgins noticed he was gone.

Heat spread through the fingers of his right hand and he moved away from the display case. He lifted his palm and pulled back. He tried pulling his fingers away, but nothing happened. They were glued to the glass. “Great. Just great.” He growled with frustration and tugged his hand. Pain shot through his fingertips when the action threatened to rip his skin off. The lights flickered and he turned around to see if Tommy had returned, but the door was still closed. The display case vibrated and the ground shook under his feet.

Earthquake, he thought, crumpling to the floor. He flattened his body against the exhibit, but as quick as it started, the ground stopped shaking. The room grew dark. He stood up and stretched his body out as far as it would go, clawing at the air for the doorknob. A light flickered behind him. It was enough to see that he was still too far away from the door. Ms. Higgins would do a head count and discover he was missing. A trip to the principal’s office was definitely in his immediate future. His fingers grew hot. He turned his head and stared into the display case. A smooth black stone blazed red-hot in its center.

“What do we have here?” a voice thundered through the room. Max told himself it was part of the exhibit and the earthquake must’ve triggered the ON switch. He felt around the stand for a button or plug. The voice cackled and it sent shivers down his spine. “I can smell your fear, child. That is good. It will make it much easier to take back what is mine.” He wondered if it was one of Tommy’s tricks and scanned the walls for a speaker. They were bare, but there was another door in the corner.

Control room, he thought.

“Rest assured, mongrel, this is no trick. You are the offspring of thieves,” the voice hissed, “You bare the mark of thievery. I can feel it pulsating within you.”

If this was part of Tommy’s prank to get him in trouble, it was the best one yet. He twisted and pulled at his hand.

“The time has come. I will have my revenge,” the voice shrieked.

“Help!” he shouted, “I’m in here.”

“No one can hear you, boy. Come to me and your death will be quick.”

His index and middle fingers slid through the glass like butter and his breath caught in his throat. The pull was even stronger on the other side. He dug in with his heels and pulled backwards as his fingers slipped inside the glass up to his knuckles. He bent the others back as far as they would go to keep them away from the glass. “Help me,” he screamed. His index and middle fingers were so close to the stone. It flashed and the rest of his right hand slipped inside the glass up to his wrist. His heart pounded inside his chest. “Help.”

The door in the corner crashed opened. Heavy footsteps thundered through the room. A pair of hands grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him across the floor. The stone’s light flickered and an angry scream filled the room. Max turned his head and caught a glimpse of a small hooded figure, as the door closed with a thud.

“Your time is short, boy. I will find you and when I do there will be no mercy,” the voice threatened. The lights came back on and the stone was silent again.

Max ran out of the room, but didn’t get very far. He crashed into something blocking the doorway and fell to the floor. An old man stood tall and straight, dressed in a white tunic and black robe. He narrowed his gray eyes and pursed his thin lips until they disappeared within the scowl on his face.

“Mr. Eswick, I am terribly sorry.” A little round man with bulging, watery eyes and a pig nose rushed to the old man’s side. His name tag read, Curator, in bold red letters.

Max ran a hand through his hair and wondered if this day could get any worse.

“What have you done, young man?” The curator grimaced in disgust. “Who are you here with? Where are your parents?”

Max stood up and the pig-nosed curator grabbed his arm. “I’m with Ms. Higgins’ class.”

“Where is your group now?”

“I-I don’t know,” he said, scanning the area. There were too many people to tell where his class was. He looked at the curator in confusion. The museum was intact. Patrons casually strolled by the exhibits. “There was an earthquake…” he started, “The whole building shook. You didn’t feel it?”

“Young man, stop this foolishness. There was no earthquake. You will come with me to my office.” The curator’s pig nose turned from pink to red and Max could tell the man was losing his patience.

“It was an accident. I swear.” The amount of trouble he was in kept just kept growing. By now, Ms. Higgins had noticed his absence and the meeting in the principal’s office was a sure thing. Max opened his mouth, but snapped it shut when the curator put his hand up to quiet him down. It was a lost cause. Pig-nose wasn’t going to listen to anything he had to say.

“It is alright. No harm was done,” said the old man.

Max could feel the old man’s eyes on him and like the voice in the room; it sent shivers down his spine. He met the old man’s gaze, but quickly looked away.

“The museum has rules…” the curator began, softening his grip on Max’s arm, “I will take your word for it, Mr. Eswick. But, I cannot have children running around like it’s an amusement park. Now, where is your group, young man?”

“MR HAMBY.”

The ear-splitting shriek boomed above the crowd and Max cringed. The curator’s eyes grew twice as big and his mouth fell open. Max, slowly, turned around. There was Ms. Higgins with the rest of his class and she was angry. She looked like a human volcano ready to erupt and he didn’t have to be close to her to know the veins in her neck were twitching like crazy. Tommy and his brothers stood behind her, doubled over in laughter. She stomped over to the men, cleared her throat and glared at him.

“Mr. Hamby is one of my students, sir,” she announced, pursing her lips. “I apologize for any mischief that’s been caused. This boy was given strict instructions prior to entering your fine establishment.” She glared at him again, then continued. “He will be dealt with accordingly.”

Max couldn’t tell if it was her clenched jaw or the wild look in her eyes, but the curator let go of him and backed away.

“Well, Mr. Eswick has stated that no harm was done. I believe the matter to be finished.” Without another word he walked into the room with the stone. He waited for the lights to flicker or the ground to shake, but nothing happened. The old man stood, silently, watching him.

Max shuffled his feet nervously and opened his mouth to apologize, but Ms. Higgins cut him off. “I am terribly sorry, sir. I do hope you weren’t inconvenienced.”

“It is quite alright, madam. Now, if you’ll excuse me,” he said, bowing his head. Ms. Higgins replied with a nod and walked away.

Max moved with her, but stopped and turned to apologize. There was a ripping sound at his feet and he looked down to see that he was standing on the guy’s tunic. The old man whirled around in a huff and glared wild-eyed at the dirty hole Max’s sneakers had made. “I’m so…” His words were cut off once more as a hand gripped his arm and pulled him in the other direction.

“Come along, Mr. Hamby. You have wasted enough time today. I am sure your mother will enjoy learning of your mischief,” said Ms. Higgins.

Max looked over his shoulder. The old man scowled and bared his teeth. Max mouthed the words, Oops and sorry, then pointed at Ms. Higgins. It wasn’t an apology exactly, but at least it was something.

2

Ms. Higgins kept a tight rein on him for the rest of the day and made him sit with her at the front of the bus on the way back to the school. Things only got worse from then on. The Gooch brothers made kissing sounds and marriage jokes about him and Ms. Higgins. They kept it up until the rest of the kids joined in, including Milo. Max slumped down in his seat and stayed that way till the bus pulled up in front of the school. Ms. Higgins made him stand beside her as the other kids got off the bus. He avoided the stares by focusing his gaze on the ground. When the last kid left for the day, he headed inside with Ms. Higgins. His stomach churned at the thought of how mad his mom was going to be. Summer would be filled with extra chores, no video games and an early bedtime. He sat down and waited while Ms. Higgins called his mom.

Principal Murphy walked in from the hallway. “Good day, Mr. Hamby. Did you enjoy your visit to the museum?”

“Principal Murphy, may I have a word with you, please?” said Ms. Higgins. Her face was paler than usual and she nervously played with the buttons on the collar of her blouse. They moved across the room and spoke softly.

Max shifted in his seat, but could barely make out what they were saying. The only thing he understood was, “Did you know about this” and “I was in meetings all day”. Ms. Higgins glanced over at him. “In your office,” she said to Principal Murphy, then followed him into the adjoining room and closed the door.

Max wondered what kind of punishment he would get when Ms. Higgins stepped out of the office and motioned for him to come in. Principal Murphy was just getting off the phone when he walked through the door.

“Have a seat, Max,” he said. The Principal ran a hand through his graying hair and let out a shaky breath.

Max sat in one of the soft leather chairs in front of his desk. “I didn’t mean to…” he began.

“Max, there’s no easy way to say this,” interrupted Principal Murphy.

Max looked at Ms. Higgins. She concentrated on her hands and wouldn’t look at him. His stomach flip-flopped. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“Max, the police are on their way. They’d like to speak with you.”

It felt like a boulder had dropped into his stomach. He couldn’t believe they had called the police. He didn’t think what happened at the museum was that big of a deal. Then he remembered the old man’s tunic. “I didn’t mean to rip the guy’s tunic. I’ll pay for the damages,” he pleaded, ringing his hands. An ache was slowly building in his fingertips.

Principal Murphy folded his hands and bowed his head. “Your mother never showed up for work today,” he said, quietly, “The police found her car.”

The knot in his stomach twisted and bile rose in his throat. “What?” he said, his voice rose in a panic. “The car broke down. That’s all. She’s probably at the house right now.” He started to shake and gripped the chair till his knuckles turned white. They gave him a few minutes before Principal Murphy led him to a small conference room down the hall. Ms. Higgins stayed in the office. His legs felt weighed down and he struggled to walk. He slid into a chair and stared at the principal. The principal’s lips were moving, but he couldn’t hear anything above the buzzing in his head. Principal Murphy nodded, then left the room. Max stared at the wall and concentrated on a spot near the ceiling where the paint had peeled away.

He didn’t want to think about what might’ve happened to his mom. There was no clock on the wall to tell how long he’d been waiting before two men walked through the door. They filled up the small room and towered over him. The only object identifying them as officers were the badges hanging over the pockets of their suit jackets.

“Hello Max,” the first one said. “I’m Detective Maitlyn.” The heavy-set man stuck out a hand with a warm, friendly smile. Max leaned over and shook it. “This is Detective Howard,” he said, pointing to the man next to him. Detective Howard wore a business-like expression and acknowledged him with a slight nod of his head. Max swallowed hard and found it hard to breath.

“Did you find my mom?” he said, looking from one detective to the other.

Detective Howard was the first to react. He looked down at the table. Max had his answer and his heart thumped harder.

“No, we haven’t,” said Detective Maitlyn, “A search party is being formed as we speak.

Max ran his fingers through his hair and struggled to breath. “Can you tell me anything?”

Detective Maitlyn pulled out a small notebook and flipped through it. “Her car was found off Longhill Rd. Her purse was still inside, including her wallet with all its contents,” he said, glancing up, “A Mr. Renny Scrine called it in. I believe you know him?”

“Yes, he’s our neighbor and the caretaker of Pleasant Seas.” The detectives looked at one another.

“Did Mr. Scrine ever say or do anything out of the ordinary?” asked Detective Maitlyn.

Max thought about the other day in front of the forest bordering Pleasant Seas. He had wanted to explore, but Mr. Scrine had warned him away. The old man spouted off something about the Downs being too dangerous and no place to play. When he asked why, Mr. Scrine had walked away muttering about it being evil. It was weird, but Mr. Scrine wouldn’t hurt anyone. Besides, everyone who lived in Pleasant Seas was a bit strange.

“No. Mr. Scrine and my mom always got along. He fixed her car once, but that’s what he does. He fixes things and plants stuff,” he said, his insides twisted hard. He didn’t want to talk about Mr. Scrine. The room closed in around him and it was hard to swallow. Why were they here, wasting time, when they could be out there searching for his mom? He clenched the arms of the chair. Detective Maitlyn noticed.

“It’s okay, Max,” said Detective Maitlyn, “We have to follow every lead. It’ll help find your mom.”

“Mr. Scrine wouldn’t hurt a fly,” he said, defensively.

Detective Howard stared at him and raised an eyebrow. “When did you last see her?” he asked, his voice was thick and gruff.

“Last night. She works a double shift on Fridays.”

“How was her mood? Did she say anything to you?”

“Everything was fine. We watched TV for a couple of hours, then went to bed. She was gone before I got up this morning”

“After you got up, what happened?”

“I grabbed my backpack and ran to school.”

Detective Maitlyn spoke up. “Principal Murphy said you went on a field trip today. Did you get a call or a message from her?”

“We’re not allowed to have a phone on during school hours,” he said, digging through his backpack. He pulled out his phone and turned it on. It loaded up and the music replaced the awkward silence in the room. He tried to steady his hand as he touched the buttons to get to his inbox. A new text sat at the top of the list in bold black letters. It was from his mom. He grasped the phone tighter and read it.

TO: Maxamillion Hamby

FROM: Annora Hamby

nTDwns

He looked at it, confused and then handed it to the detective. Detective Maitlyn took the phone and studied the screen. “Do you know what those letters stand for, Max?” he asked. Detective Howard leaned over to have a look, but Detective Maitlyn handed the phone back. Max eyed Detective Howard apprehensively. The detective sat back in his chair and exhaled softly. Beads of sweat formed across his forehead and he loosened his tie. He ran his hands over his pale face and through his hair.

“Um, no. I don’t,” he said, watching Detective Howard. “We’ve tried texting before, but she never got the hang of it.” He was lying and hoped the detectives couldn’t see it on his face.

Detective Howard stared at the floor and blinked rapidly.

“Is he alright?” Max asked, pointing at the detective.

“He’ll be fine,” said Detective Maitlyn, “He gets a little claustrophobic.”

Max leaned down and dropped his phone into his backpack. The lights flickered and he froze. Detective Howard leaned across the table and snarled in his face. He was dripping with sweat and his skin had turned a sickly gray color. “D-Detective Maitlyn?” he said, glancing over at the other man. “What…is going on?” Detective Maitlyn wasn’t moving and his notebook was frozen in mid-flip.

Detective Howard threw his head back and shrieked with laughter. “Your mother is a thief, boy. She must pay and so shall you.” The detective’s voice wasn’t his own. It was female and familiar. Max pushed his chair back, but the legs caught on the rug. He fell backwards and landed on the floor with a thud.

“This can’t be happening?” he muttered. It was the same voice from the museum and he scrambled to get away from Detective Howard’s outstretched hands. The detective slid his body onto the table.

“It’s simple, boy. Your mother needs to return what is mine and I might let her live…or not,” the detective cackled.

“STOP,” he screamed and threw his hands up. He opened his eyes and looked around. The lights were on and both men were staring at him.

“Are you okay?” asked Detective Howard.

He studied the man’s face. His color was normal and the sweat was gone. “Y-yes, I’m fine,” he said, sliding back into the chair.

Detective Maitlyn cleared his throat, “Your neighbor, Mrs. Pitt, stated that you will be staying with her until we can locate a relative.”

Relative, he thought. As far as he knew, there were no other relatives. His mom had mumbled something about relatives and an accident once, but never brought it up again. “Can I go now?” he asked.

“Yes, we’re done here. We’ll contact you if we have any more questions,” said Detective Maitlyn, “Mrs. Pitt should be waiting by the office.” Max snatched up his backpack and headed for the door.

“I’m sorry about your mom. We’ll do everything we can to find her,” said Detective Howard.

Max cringed and walked out into the hallway. He wanted to believe the detectives would find her, but he had a strange feeling that this was out of their league.

“I’ll find her,” he whispered, turning the corner. Mrs. Pitt waited for him against the wall near the office. She wore her usual pink flowery dress with a white apron tied around her waist and thick soled shoes on her feet. She reminded him of the fairy godmother in one of the stories his mom used to read to him. Her white hair was pinned neatly on top of her head and there was a rosy glow to her cheeks. All she needed was a pair of wings. He walked up to her and she placed a hand on his arm. She studied him for a moment, before raising an eyebrow.

“We will find her together,” she said, then lead him outside.

3

Max followed Mrs. Pitt out to her car. He dug his hands into his pockets and concentrated on his feet. He didn’t know how to explain the talking stone at the museum or his hands slipping through solid glass. He knew what the text from his mom meant and then there was Detective Howard. He opened the car door and plunked down in the seat. Was any of it even real or am I going crazy? he wondered. He stared out the window and waited for the car to start moving.

“Now, how about you show me the message she sent you,” said Mrs. Pitt, interrupting his thoughts.

He turned in his seat and gawked at her. There was no way she could’ve known about the text.

“The message, Max,” she said, holding out her hand, “May I see it?”

He grabbed his phone and loaded up his inbox, then ran his finger over the text to select it. “In The Downs,” his mother’s voice rang out. He went rigid and gripped the phone tight. The full text popped up on screen and he swiped his finger over it again. “In The Downs,” her voice said. He wondered if Mrs. Pitt had heard it, too and glimpsed at her. Her expression was blank, as she waited for him to pass the phone. He put it in her hand and watched her closely. The wrinkles in her forehead deepened, as she stared at the screen.

“n-T-D-w-n-s.” She said each letter separately and then ran her finger over the message.

He wondered if he should tell her about the museum and Detective Howard, but decided against it. Who was going to believe him anyway? He didn’t even believe it.

“Well, that’s interesting, isn’t it?” she asked, handing the phone back, “And from the looks of it, you’ve had more than your fair share today.” He nodded and she started the car. They drove back to Pleasant Seas in silence.

Max leaned forward in his seat when Mrs. Pitt turned the car onto their street. He crossed his fingers and hoped his mom would be there, waiting for him. She’d tell him it was a big misunderstanding and they’d have a good laugh. They rounded the corner and his stomach flipped, then flopped. The car wasn’t there. He slumped back in the seat. It wasn’t a bad dream. It was really real. His mom was missing and he was alone.

“You go on and get yourself settled and I’ll be over in a few minutes,” said Mrs. Pitt.

Mr. Scrine walked out of her house, followed by her dog, Bartholomew. Max met his gaze, but neither one said a word. He headed for his house, while Mrs. Pitt spoke softly with Mr. Scrine. He opened the door and threw his backpack on the counter. Something clattered to the floor and he leaned over to see what it was. There was his mom’s phone lying face-up on the tile floor. “What?” he said, picking it up, “How did she send a text, if she didn’t have her phone?” He put the phone down and ran to her room. “Mom.” He opened her bedroom door, but she wasn’t there. Nothing was out of place. He checked his room and the bathroom. Besides her phone, there was nothing to let him know she had been there.

Bartholomew barked outside and he walked back into the living and peeked through the curtains. The dog barked again when a butterfly hovered in front of his nose. Mrs. Pitt and Mr. Scrine were in a deep discussion and ignored the dog.

Three more butterflies danced around Bartholomew. The dog barked and whimpered at them. The butterflies converged on him, then flew away. Bartholomew plopped down on the cement and barked up at Mrs. Pitt and Mr. Scrine. Mr. Scrine nodded and then hurried away. Mrs. Pitt lifted the fat beagle’s floppy ear and spoke to him.

That’s odd, he thought, shaking his head.

Max picked up his backpack and started walking to his bedroom when he spied the picture of his mom on the mantle. It was of the two of them on his last birthday. He picked it up, as the lump in his throat returned and tears slid down his face. “Where are you?” he whispered. The voice had called his mom a thief at the museum and the school. But, she wasn’t a thief, rocks don’t glow and they certainly don’t talk. There had to be another explanation. He closed his bedroom door and grabbed his phone.

He just needed to hear her voice and ran his finger over the text repeatedly. Like a recording stuck on play, her voice said, “In the Downs.” He clenched his hands and then opened them wide. The ache was still there. He’d forgotten about it when Detective Howard had gone creepzilla on him. Filled with frustration, he placed his phone on the bedside table and laid down. He was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

▪▪▪

The first signs of daylight peeked through the curtains. Max opened his eyes and waited for his mom to come wake him up for school. He stretched and rolled over and then stared at his phone. Like a punch to the gut, he remembered. The events from the day before came flooding back. The message from his mom said, “In the Downs”. He lay there thinking about it for a while and somehow he knew the police weren’t going to find her. The ache in his hands had moved to the birthmark on his chest. He stared at it in the mirror and willed the pain to go away. It might’ve been his imagination, but he thought it subsided a bit.

Max stared at himself in the mirror. His sandy-haired, green-eyed reflection blinked back at him. He knew what he had to do; search the Downs and find his mom. He grabbed his backpack and some clothes from the pile on the floor, but stopped when a soft whine came from outside his bedroom door, followed by scratching. He opened it and Bartholomew waddled in.

“Good morning, boy,” he said, kneeling down to pat the dog’s head. Bartholomew looked up at him and bared his teeth. It almost looked like the dog was trying to smile. The beagle put his paw on his leg and his wet nose in his palm.

“No time to play today,” he said, standing up. He turned to grab extra socks from the dresser drawer. Bartholomew whimpered at his feet and Max turned around to find the dog sprawled across his backpack. “Get off, Bartholomew. I need that.” He tried to push the dog off, but Bartholomew flattened his pudgy body over the backpack. He bent down to pick him up, but let go when Bartholomew growled.

“Get off, boy. Go on.” Max grabbed the strap and pulled. Bartholomew growled again, but this time it was different. If he didn’t know better, he would’ve sworn that Bartholomew had said, no. He stopped pulling and gaped at the dog. “Did you just talk?” He shook his head and ran his hands through his hair, “What am I doing? Dogs don’t talk. Get a grip, Max.” He grasped the strap firmly in one hand and reached under the dog’s belly for the fabric of the backpack. “One way or another, you’re getting off,” he said, and yanked it out from underneath the beagle. Bartholomew flopped onto the floor. The dog whimpered and growled, “No”, again. He was positive he’d heard it that time. “Nice trick, but I’ve got to go.” He zipped up the backpack and walked out into the hallway. There was no telling what Mrs. Pitt would do if she woke up. He tiptoed to the kitchen. She was fast asleep on the sofa. Her phone rested on the pillow next to her head. It would take more than a day to search the Downs. He quickly filled his backpack with food and water, then grabbed a pen and paper from a drawer and scribbled a note.

Max hurried to the door with Bartholomew on his heels. He gently nudged him back with his foot and turned the knob. Mrs. Pitt rolled over. He held his breath and waited to see if she would wake up. When she didn’t, he opened the door and stepped outside. Bartholomew wiggled his way out as he closed the door.

“Bartholomew, you can’t come with me. Stay,” he said softly. He hurried up the road with the dog following close behind. “Bartholomew, go back. Go on.” The dog growled low like he did in the bedroom. “No.” Max gave in.

“Alright, come on,” he said, sighing heavily. “When did Mrs. Pitt teach you to talk anyway?”

The sun was inching its way over the horizon as he made his way through the neighborhood. All of Pleasant Seas was still asleep, but he looked around the neighborhood for Mr. Scrine just in case. When he didn’t see the old man, he picked up the pace.

Max reached the corner and looked down the road. If he turned right, it led to the school. There was no way he could sit in a classroom all day with his mom missing. The sign at the entrance of Hobart Cemetery squeaked and he shivered. It wasn’t big, but it was more than a little creepy. He turned left toward the Downs. It was a short walk to the cement blocks that barred the way in. There was a small opening between them for him and Bartholomew, but it was the signs that made him uneasy.

DO NOT CROSS. EVIL AHEAD, read one. DIE AT YOUR OWN RISK, read another. The signs weren’t going to stop him. His mom was in there and he was going to find her.

“Alright, boy. Are you ready?” He looked down at Bartholomew. The dog’s body tensed and his ears perked up as he focused on the trees. “Yeah, neither am I.”

Max peered down the road that led through the Downs. The trees were so tightly packed together, they blocked out the sun. It was hard to tell where the road led or if there was an end. The darkness seemed to swallow it up. A knot formed in his stomach. He glanced over his shoulder at Pleasant Seas and considered turning back. His phone went off and he jumped with a start. It beeped and rang at the same time. He pulled it out of his pocket and eyed the screen. It flashed wildly with the text from his mom.

“The battery must be dying,” he said. He ran his finger over it, but couldn’t hear anything, except static. The phone went silent. He stared at the screen. The battery was full. “What?” The knot in his stomach grew bigger. “Come on, Max. You can do this,” he said. Bartholomew whimpered at his feet. “Last chance, buddy. You can stay, if you want to.”

Max stepped in between the cement blocks. A strong gust of wind whipped down through the trees and pushed him backwards. “What the…?” He stiffened his body against it and stepped between the blocks again. The force of the wind pushed against his chest and shoulders. He steadied himself and shielded his eyes from the dirt being kicked up. He took a small step forward, but stopped when pebbles whipped around his head.

“You must go back, Max,” a woman’s voice said.

Fear bubbled up and he wondered if this was the danger Mr. Scrine had warned him about. The wind died down and he slowly uncovered his eyes. A gangly woman stood on the other side of the cement blocks. Sharp edges of the bones in her cheeks and jaw protruded from her face. She had pale skin, matted brown hair and dark circles under her eyes. She looked like she just stepped out of Hobart Cemetery. He swallowed hard.

Her long white nightgown swayed in the breeze and revealed dirty, bare feet underneath. The woman tilted her head to the side and stared at him. She clutched an old baby doll firmly in her arms. The doll was dressed like her in a flowing white nightgown. Its face was cracked on one side and it had lost most of its hair. It had one good eye. The other hung from its socket and rested on the woman’s arm.

“W-Who are you?” he croaked. His mouth was dry and his tongue felt like it had been dragged through a desert.

The woman backed up. Her eyes darted from side to side. It looked like she was going to run away, but she twirled around instead. He was beginning to think going after his mom alone was a bad idea. She tilted her head again and softly sang something he couldn’t understand. The ugly doll blinked its good eye and moved its head. Max jumped back and almost tripped over Bartholomew. He had forgotten the dog was there.

“Y-you have to let me pass. My mom’s calling. She needs me.”

“Your mom isn’t calling you, Max,” the woman said, “She’s playing hide and seek in there.” She pointed into the darkness behind her.

Max looked past her. The sun had risen since he’d left the house. It was shining bright and he could feel the warmth of its rays on his face, but there was no sunlight in the Downs. “What are you talking about?” he asked.

“I’ve seen her. She’s looking for someone to play with her. Your mother has been looking a long time. She found a playmate,” the woman said, swaying from side to side, “I would never play with him, though. He’s not very nice. But, he was happy to see your mother.”

“Play with who? Who’s not very nice?” he asked. His heart pounded in his chest. “Who has my mom? Where is she?” The doll shook its head and wiggled a finger at him. He trembled and grasped the cement block to keep from falling over. “P-please, you have to tell me where she is,” he begged, keeping an eye on the doll.

The wind picked up and whipped through the treetops. It swooped down and swirled around the woman. Her eyes went wide with fear and before he could stop her, she turned and ran away.

“Wait,” he called. She was gone. It was quiet again and he was alone. He hesitated and stared down the road. His mom was in the Downs somewhere and he had to find her. Was the strange woman trying to tell him something? He shifted the weight of his backpack, took a deep breath, and stepped forward. The sound of feet thumping on the ground made him spin around. It was Mr. Scrine and he wasn’t happy. He was disheveled and looked like he had just rolled out of bed.

“I thought I told you to stay away,” he growled, “Don’t you read?”

“I-I can explain…,” he began, then thought better of it. “Well, no I can’t, but my mom’s in there and I’m going to find her.”

“That is something you are not going to do,” said Mr. Scrine, “Do you think I put those signs up for a joke?” The old man’s face softened. “Going off by yourself is not going to get her back. Now, come on. Petunia’s probably worried sick.” He turned and stomped away.

“I’ll have to find another way,” muttered Max, scooting out from between the cement blocks.

Bartholomew growled, no. Max stared down at the dog. “That’s a really, really good trick,” he said, as they walked back to Pleasant Seas.

4

Max walked into the house followed by Mr. Scrine and Bartholomew.

Mrs. Pitt was standing at the kitchen counter with his note in her hand. She gasped when he walked through the door and rushed over to hug him. “Thank goodness you’re okay,” she said, looking him over, “You didn’t go in the Downs, did you? You didn’t cross the barriers?”

Max shook his head.

Mr. Scrine cleared his throat, “I found him standing in front of the entrance again.”

Mrs. Pitt moved to the kitchen. “We’ll discuss this over breakfast.”

Max put his bag on the sofa and sat down. “I’m not hungry,” he said.

“I’m not hungry either,” said Mr. Scrine, “I have to be getting back out there.”

Mrs. Pitt put her hands on her hips and gave him an exasperated grunt. “Renny Scrine, you will sit down and put something warm in that belly of yours. And Max, your mother would not approve of you running around the Downs, especially half starved.”

Mr. Scrine threw up his hands and smiled. “Alright woman, some hot coffee would do me just fine.” He sat down next to Max and they stared, awkwardly, at each other. Mr. Scrine smiled and nodded at him. Bartholomew scrambled up on the sofa. Max concentrated on petting the dog’s head. Mrs. Pitt thumped and clanged around in the kitchen.

“Is that coffee ready yet, Petunia?” asked Mr. Scrine.

“Here it is,” she said, and placed a tray with three steaming mugs on the coffee table.

“Max, I found some nice hot chocolate in the cupboard. You’re out of tiny marshmallows, though,” said Mrs. Pitt.

He picked up the mug and blew on it. His mind was reeling with a million questions and he wondered if he should tell them everything that had happened.

Mr. Scrine slurped his coffee and Mrs. Pitt sat back and sighed, contentedly.

She looked a little too relaxed. They were friends of his mom and sat there as if all was right with the world. His annoyance turned to anger and he gripped the mug tighter.

Mr. Scrine broke the silence first. “Petunia, the boy is about to jump out of his skin. You need to tell him something.”

Mrs. Pitt looked up from her mug and nodded. “Max, what I’m about to tell you might be hard to believe…”

He couldn’t hold it back any longer and blurted out everything that had happened the day before. He told them about the stone, the hooded figure, Detective Howard and the woman in the Downs. Mrs. Pitt and Mr. Scrine listened intently. He finished and looked from one to the other. Neither one of them looked surprised. He sat back and exhaled. He had no idea what they were going to say, but at this point, he didn’t care. Things had gotten too weird and he felt like he was losing his mind.

Mr. Scrine put his mug down, but wouldn’t look at him. “There is much to explain, son. But, there are others who can do a better job than Petunia and myself,” he said.

Max didn’t want to hear that. He needed answers now.

Mrs. Pitt patted him on the hand. “We’ll do our best to answer your questions.”

“Tell me about the stone at the museum,” he said, ringing his hands. “It called my mom a thief and said that it would get its revenge.”

“The woman trapped in the stone is evil, Max,” said Mrs. Pitt.

“Trapped? How can a person be trapped in a rock? What about Detective Howard? It was the same voice coming out of his mouth.”

“The stone is called the Shadowstone and her name is Isolde. I cannot explain how it’s happening, but, she is getting stronger,” said Mrs. Pitt.

“The stone is a prison, Max. Many wicked characters are imprisoned inside,” explained Mr. Scrine, “There’s been whisperings of someone on the outside trying to set her free.”

“If she’s trapped in there, how can she get out and what does that have to do with my Mom? Is there a door or cell somewhere?”

“It’s not like that, Max. The stone is the key. It would take a lot of power and even then, it might not work,” said Mrs. Pitt.

“What do you mean by power?”

“Magic, Max,” said Mrs. Pitt, matter of fact.

“That’s a joke, right?” he asked, with a smirk. He shook his head and ran a hand through his hair. He tried to grasp what she had just said, but it was too impossible. “So, everything that’s happened has to do with magic? Like, witches and wizards magic?”

Mrs. Pitt nodded as if it was the most common thing in the world. “Yes, Max. It’s all real. There are non-magical humans and magical ones, plus more,” said Mrs. Pitt.

“What do you mean by more?” he asked, “Are you saying fairies and dragons are real?” He thought of Milo Jenkins and his dragon dictionary.

“Don’t be silly, Max. Dragons haven’t been around for hundreds of years,” said Mrs. Pitt, with a chuckle.

Max took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. “You still haven’t told me what any of this has to do with my Mom.”

“Son, I believe that’s best left to someone else to explain,” said Mr. Scrine.

Max shifted on the sofa. His anger grew. It couldn’t be real. They had to be joking. He studied their faces and waited for the punchline. but, there wasn’t one. They were serious. They actually wanted him to believe magic and mythological creatures were real, but would not tell him about his Mom or how to get her back. It was too much.

“Some lunatic kidnapped my mother and you’re telling me fairytales are real,” he said, gnashing his teeth together.

Bartholomew growled. “Yes.”

Max pointed to the dog. “And what is up with that? Next you’ll tell me, he’s a magical dog.”

Mrs. Pitt looked at Mr. Scrine. The old man shrugged his shoulders. Mrs. Pitt scrunched up her face at Bartholomew. “Well, in a sense, yes. Let’s just say Bartholomew wasn’t always a dog.”

He couldn’t sit still any longer and jumped up to pace the length of the living room.

“Max, please calm down. All your questions will be answered and we will get your mother back,” said Mrs. Pitt.

“Where is she? Is she a prisoner in a tower or locked in a bedroom waiting for Prince Charming? Oh, I know. She’s stuck in a golden egg that can only be hatched by Mother Goose, right?” he said, sarcastically.

“Son, we realize you’re upset, but you will show some respect,” demanded Mr. Scrine. There was an edge in his tone Max had never heard before.

“Max, this is not something out of a storybook. The situation is very real and deadly,” said Mrs. Pitt.

He grew tense and turned his back on them. He wanted to scream or run, but mostly, he wanted to do something to get his mom back and they were no help.

Mrs. Pitt walked up behind him and placed her hands on his shoulders. “Come with me. I have something to show you,” she said, moving around him to open the door.

Mr. Scrine stepped out first, followed by Bartholomew. Mrs. Pitt held the door and waited for him. With a grunt, he walked outside. He had a sinking feeling things were only going to get weirder. They walked across the lawn to Mrs. Pitt’s house. Mr. Scrine and Bartholomew stopped a few feet from her house. Max chose to stand behind them. He didn’t want to be there, but out of curiosity, he peered around Mr. Scrine. He didn’t see anything unusual. Mrs. Pitt had a wide array of flowers decorating her porch and the front of her home. He never paid much attention to it before, but the house did look like something out of fairytale.

It was pink with gingerbread trim. Flower boxes adorned the window sills and a little white picket fence bordered the flowerbeds. Garden gnomes were scattered in between the bushes.

“What are we waiting for?” he asked, watching a fat bumblebee buzz around. “It’s just a bunch of flowers.”

“You must be patient, Max,” said Mrs. Pitt, “We do not want to offend them.”

“Offend who?” he asked, eying the house.

Mr. Pitt stepped closer to the porch. “It is alright. You may come out now,” she said, clasping her hands in front of her. There was no one there.

Max shook his head and turned to head back to his house, when something moved out of the corner of his eye. His eyebrows shot up over his forehead and his mouth hung open. The garden gnomes that had been staring him in the face turned from stone to flesh and slowly gathered on the steps of the porch. He watched in amazement as more gnomes came out from behind flower pots. Each one of them eyed him warily. They were dressed in blue tunics with a wide brown belt around the middle, green pants, brown boots and tall cone-shaped red hats. From somewhere in the house, a cat meowed. When all the gnomes had gathered together, there were fifteen. If there were more, he couldn’t tell. One gnome stepped out in front of the group and nodded to Mrs. Pitt. He was older than the others and had the longest beard out of the group. He nodded to Max.

“Max, I would like you to meet some friends of mine,” said Mrs. Pitt, waving him forward. Max stepped up beside her.

“I think it would be best to do the introductions inside,” said Mr. Scrine.

“Yes, of course, Renny,” Mrs. Pitt agreed, “Everyone into the living room. We will have tea and cake.” She ushered the gnomes in first. Bartholomew, happily, trotted behind them.

Mr. Scrine put his arm around Max’s shoulders and walked him into the house. Inside the meowing grew louder and more demanding. Max looked around for a cat, but didn’t see one. The gnomes sat together on one sofa, while Mr. Scrine and Bartholomew made room for him on another. He sat down next to the dog and waited for someone to say something. An awkward silence hung in the air.

The gnomes and Mr. Scrine spoke softly to each other while Mrs. Pitt busied herself in the kitchen. Max glanced around the room. The layout of her house was the same as his, but the decor was mind blowing. Everywhere he looked was a different shade of pink. The living room and kitchen were an explosion of pinks, flowers and bits of lace. Even her fireplace was lined with pink bricks. He didn’t want to imagine what the rest of the house looked like. The cat let out a long drawn out meow and the more he listened, the more it sounded like, “Now.”

“Mrs. Pitt, I didn’t know you had a cat,” he said. He felt his face grow warm as fifteen pairs of eyes looked in his direction.

“I don’t, dear. That is Harold,” she said, “He can be quite demanding when he is hungry.”

Max watched her place a small bowl on the counter and dump the contents of a can of cat food in it, followed by a generous helping of bird seed. She pulled the cover off a bird cage in the corner of the kitchen. Inside the cage was a large yellow canary. It turned its head towards Mrs. Pitt and let out a loud, “Now,” then chirped.

Max grabbed the arm of the sofa. The gnomes snickered and Mr. Scrine chuckled next to him. The bird had the head of a cat. Gold cat’s eyes watched Mrs. Pitt, hungrily. It flapped its wings and twitched its whiskers. He leaned forward and almost fell to the floor. Mr. Scrine held him in place; his chuckle turned into a belly laugh.

“Harold is a sight for sore eyes, isn’t he?” he asked, choking back his laughter.

“Alright Harold, calm down. Your breakfast is right here,” said Mrs. Pitt, casually. She placed the bowl inside the cage and the cat-bird creature hopped off its perch toward the food. Mrs. Pitt picked up a large tray ladened with steaming teacups and small cakes. She went back and forth until everyone was served. The cat-bird made happy “Yum-Yum” noises from its cage.

Max stared into the kitchen. “Mrs. Pitt…” he began, unable to find the right words. She must have known what he was going to ask, because she held up a hand. “A bit of a mishap, dear,” she said, sitting down in the chair next to him. She helped herself to a cup of tea and one of the cakes, then settled herself back in the oversized recliner. “Max, I would like to introduce you to Nodrik and his brothers. They are not only my dear friends, but the best gardeners in the world.”

“You are too kind, Petunia,” said the older gnome. His voice was a deep rumble, “We are pleased to meet you, Max.”

“I-It’s nice to m-meet you, too,” he stammered.

“We are glad to finally meet the boy, but why now? What has happened that it is necessary to reveal ourselves on this side?” asked Nodrik.

Max wondered what he meant by that.

“Much has happened in the past twenty-four hours, Nodrik. Annora has been taken and Isolde has revealed herself to Max,” said Mrs. Pitt, putting her teacup down. The gnomes gasped and whispered amongst themselves.

“How is this possible?” asked a gnome in the back row.

“She has no power,” said another gnome.

Mrs. Pitt held up her hand to quiet the group. “It appears she is getting help from the outside and is stronger than she has been in a very long time.”

Max watched as all the potted flowers in the room began to sway and bob. Some of them shrunk and others disappeared completely under the soil. One gnome hopped off the sofa to console a tall sunflower that was especially agitated. The gnome caressed its petals and held it against his chest. The sunflower’s leaves wrapped around the gnome in an embrace and was soon calm. Mrs. Pitt waited until the moment had passed, then continued.

“We have a clue as to where Annora might have been taken, but I am wary to trust it just yet,” she said, turning to him, “Max, why don’t you tell Nodrik and his brothers, what you told me and Renny.”

Max nodded and told the gnomes everything that had happened, including the woman in the Downs. He passed his phone to the older gnome. Nodrik grazed his thick, stubby finger over the message and studied it just as Mrs. Pitt had done the day before.

“She says she is in the Downs,” said Nodrik.

“Wait. You can hear her?” he asked, surprised.

The older gnome lifted a bushy eyebrow and glowered at him. “We have lived on this side long enough to understand technology, Max.” He was clearly offended. “I didn’t mean…” He had no idea what to say. “That is..”

“Nodrik, Max is in discovery and means no harm,” said Mrs. Pitt. Nodrik’s features softened and he nodded his head with understanding.

“Renny and I were explaining a few things to him and we thought it might be a good idea to give him a few examples,” explained Mrs. Pitt.

“I see,” said Nodrik.

“But, isn’t he…?” interrupted the gnome beside him. Mr. Scrine and Mrs. Pitt flashed a warning glance in his direction. The gnome turned bright red and put his head down.

Max looked around the room. “Isn’t he what?” he asked, turning to Mrs. Pitt, “What am I?” He had a hard time keeping the agitation out of his tone.

“Max, there are many things that you should have been told long ago. I cannot say why your mother chose not to. And now, with the situation the way it is, I believe it’s best to leave it up to a few that have more of a right to explain it all to you than we do.”

“What others? Do they know about my mom? Can they help?” he asked.

“In due time, Max. You will have all the answers to your questions and then some. But, yes. They can help,” said Mr. Scrine.

“Whoever has your mother holds great power. They would not be able to contain Annora any other way,” explained Mrs. Pitt.

“The woman in the Downs….she said my mom’s playing hide and seek with him. Who was she talking about?”

“We do not know, Max,” said Mrs. Pitt.

The gnomes huddled together and whispered furiously. A gnome in the back row hopped off the sofa and ran to a closet across the room. He placed his palms against the door and opened it. With a nod to Nodrik, he stepped into the closet and closed the door.

“I have sent word to the others informing them of Annora’s disappearance. They will need to know about Max’s encounters thus far,” said Nodrik.

“Where did he go?” asked Max, “Isn’t that the closet?”

“It is an Ostium, Max. Every magical being has one,” said Mrs. Pitt, “It is much faster than any other form of travel.”

“So, it’s a portal?” he asked, “I could step into it and go anywhere?”

“Well, yes. But, we will save that for another time,” said Mrs. Pitt, patting his arm, “I believe this meeting has come to a close. For now, we will keep our eyes and ears open.” The gnomes began to leave, but Nodrik remained seated.

“Max, I think it would be best if you stayed close to home,” said Mr. Scrine, “We don’t know what we’re up against, exactly and it’s best if you stay within Pleasant Seas.”

Max stared at him. The knot in his stomach sunk like a stone and his anger rose up. His mom was out there somewhere and now he was going to be a prisoner in his own home. She was alone. What if she was hurt? He cringed at the thought and couldn’t stop the tears from welling up in his eyes.

Nodrik stepped in front of him. “It is a most unfortunate turn of events, but we gnomes will do all we can to aide in the return of your mother.”

Max nodded and wiped at his eyes. The older gnome patted his arm, then walked out the door.

“I’d better be getting back,” said Mr. Scrine. He put his hand on Max’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “This is not something for the police, Max. But, do not lose hope. Pleasant Seas is not without its resources.” Max watched Mr. Scrine leave and wondered what he meant.

“Why don’t we go for a walk around the neighborhood, Max,” said Mrs. Pitt, “There are a few more things I’d like to show you.”

He wasn’t up for a walk, but reluctantly, followed her outside anyway.

5

The hooded figure hid under a cluster of lilac bushes across from the old woman’s house and peered out from under a thick branch. A group of gnomes came out first, followed by an old man. He moved farther under the bush and waited. The gnomes and the humans were not important. He was there for the boy.

The boy was lucky he had come along when he did at the museum; otherwise the kid would’ve been lost forever to them. His own brother had been killed because of that blasted stone.

Mibbitwiss. If only I had known…, he thought. It was the day they found the stone. They had been full of joy over their new found treasure. There was much to celebrate. The stone was going to make them rich. How were they to know it would ruin both their lives?

The guilt and the echo of his brother’s voice had been with him ever since. That day was stuck on repeat in his mind and no matter how hard he tried to forget; the weight of that horrible day hung around his neck like a noose.

His brother had smiled proudly at their coop. The blood-red stone was half the size of his hand. The hooded figure shook with rage, as wave after wave of that day rolled through his mind. The bush shook and he tried to calm himself. He wasn’t ready to reveal his identity to the boy just yet. Not a day went by that he didn’t miss Mibbitwiss’ laughter.

▪▪▪

“We fooled ‘em, Hodgenock. We got those natties good. That troll was dumber than a barrel of pickled boar’s snout,” Mibbitwiss snorted, “What did he think was going to happen when he handed over his club?”

“Hurry up, Hodgey-boy. You run like a fat badger after Sunday tea,” chuckled Mibbitwiss.

“I’d rather be a fat badger right about now. These old legs don’t know what it’s like to scamper through the thickets anymore,” said Hodgenock, breathlessly.

“You’ll be pushing up Trith turd if you don’t pick up your speed. We need to get out of the Downs,” said Mibbitwiss.

“But Mibby, we’ve run past that old oak tree twice now.”

Mibbitwiss looked around. His thick eyebrows bunched together with concern. His brother was right. “I’m sure the way out is just up ahead,” he said, stumbling over a thick root in the ground.

“Watch your step, brother or we won’t make it out,” warned Hodgenock, hopping over the same root. “Look. Up ahead. Do you see it?” A sliver of sunlight trickled in through the thick trunks of the Downs. It was a welcome beacon from the heavens.

Blood curdling howls drew closer. It was only a matter of time before the Trith were upon them. The stench of death and decay was creeping up on them fast. Neither dwarf said a word. They knew what would happen if they didn’t make it and concentrated on getting out of the Downs.

They squeezed through a tight opening in the trees and into a clearing. Hodgenock bent over and grabbed his knees in an attempt to catch his breath. Mibbitwiss studied the road the road that cut through the Downs. “We’ll have to double back,” he said.

“You can double back, brother. I am in no hurry to have the Trith suck me dry. We are safe in this clearing,” said Hodgenock.

“Yes, but only while the sun is up. The Trith can move freely at night. You know that,” said Mibbitwiss, shielding his eyes, “You remember what happened to that family of trolls they caught? Six of ‘em eaten in seconds.” He clicked his tongue and whistled low. “They never stood a chance. The poor dumb lummox. Never saw claws and teeth move so fast in my life.”

Hodgenock shuddered. “I remember, Mibby.”

Mibbitwiss stroked his long ginger beard and stared off into the distance. An Ostium, he thought. He smiled and grabbed Hodgenock’s shoulder. “Come on, brother. Freedom is closer than you think,” he said, and pointed to the farthest side of the clearing.

Hodgenock looked back at the Downs and waves of dread washed over him. He couldn’t see the Trith, but he knew they were there, waiting and hungry. Before he had a chance to protest, Mibbitwiss took off running.

Hodgenock sprinted after him. His lungs burned and his body ached. Mibbitwiss was a good yard ahead and he forced himself to move faster. They couldn’t give up now. Freedom and a celebratory pint of bog ale waited for them at the inn. Mibbitwiss ran faster. Hodgenock tried to call out to him, but there was no breath left for words. Even as young dwarfs, his brother could always out run him. He quickly fell behind.

Almost there, he thought.

Hodgenock squinted into the shadows of the Downs. It took a moment to see it just beyond the line of trees. The largest stump he had ever seen. A round green door sat in the center of two small windows. It didn’t feel right, but they only had seconds to get through the door before they were surrounded on all sides and stuck in the clearing for good.

A flash of sunlight bounced off the front of the stump. Hodgenock slowed his step. He had seen it before. when the family of trolls were captured. “The trolls, he yelled. “Mibbitwiss, STOP.”

Mibbitwiss did not hear him and kept running. “Hodgey-boy, we’ve made it,” he yelled, over his shoulder.

Hodgenock knew there was no way he’d stop his brother in time. He was almost to the tree line. “Mibbitwiss, it’s a trap,” he screamed, but it was to late. He slid to the grassy floor when Mibbitwiss hit the barrier and stuck to it like a fly caught in a spider’s web. Mibbitwiss used a free arm to try and pry himself loose. He twisted from side to side, but it only made it worse. He hung a few inches off the ground in a thin, white web.

“Mibby, pull harder. Get out of there,” screamed Hodgenock, as the smell of the Trith wafted through his noise.

Mibbitwiss reached into his pocket and threw the stone. Hodgenock caught it and watched the Trith stalk his brother. Half-man and beast, with gray skin and sparse black hair over their bodies, came out of the shadows and surrounded Mibbitwiss. Drool dripped from the fangs at the corners of their mouths and razor sharp claws dug into the ground and prepared to pounce.

“Mibby, no. Try again. You can get free” cried Hodgenock.

“Go Hodgey-boy. Run. Remember me to our brother dwarfs.” Hodgenock stood stiff as the Trith inched closer. “Drink a pint for me, brother,” said Mibbitwiss. He shifted his gaze toward the Trith and lifted his chin defiantly.

The Trith closed in and Hodgenock stepped forward. But, his whole body jarred before he could get any closer. Something hooked his collar and lifted him off the ground. Higher and higher he rose in the air leaving the Downs behind. He listened for his brother, but the wind whipped fiercely around his ears. “Mibbitwiss,” he screamed, frantically. He heard Mibbitwiss shout “Freedom” and then all was quiet.

Hodgenock hung limp in the air and sobbed till there was nothing left. He swiped at his eyes and looked up. The eye of an oversized crow stared down at him. Its large claw encircled his collar and scraped the back of his neck. He struggled to unhook himself with one hand, while holding the stone with the other. Anger over the death of his brother raged inside of him.

He reached up with both hands to grab the talons, but the stone fell from his grasp. A second crow caught the stone in its beak and a third swooped in next to him. The talon pulled on his collar, threatening to cut off his air. “Do not struggle, again, unless you would like to meet the same fate as your brother,” said the crow. Its voice was female and calm.

“Where are you taking me?” he asked, watching the second crow, “And what of my stone?”

“The stone was never yours, nor was it meant for the evil that hides beneath the trees below,” said the crow, “It has a higher purpose than to fill your belly and quench your thirst.”

“It belongs to me,” he said, kicking the air.

“Enough talk. We are almost there,” said the crow.

The three crows circled over a large section of tightly knit trees and swooped down. The treetops rushed towards him and his stomach heaved. He closed his eyes and waited for the impact, but it never came. Instead, he was placed gently on the ground and the crows landed next to him.

“You will be safe here. I am sorry about your brother, but it could not be helped.”

Hodgenock took a few shaky steps forward and looked around. He was standing at the entrance to a small, deserted village.

“Where am I?” he asked. When the crows did not respond, he turned around. “You can’t just leave me here,” he shouted. But, they were already gone.

▪▪▪

Hodgenock scooted farther under the bush and pulled his hood down over his head when the boy and the old woman walked out of the house.

After the crows left him in the village, he discovered an old man sitting in one of the huts. He was more skin than bone and wrapped in a thin blanket. He said he’d been waiting a long time. The man had taken him in and told him of the coming “dark days” and that it was his duty to watch over the boy. He explained that all was not lost with his brother, but Hodgenock didn’t believe him. He was there. He saw the Trith surround Mibbitwiss.

He watched the old woman and the boy pass by. The child’s eyes were swollen and red. He knew that pain. The ache in his heart was still there even after all these years.

6

Max walked beside Mrs. Pitt toward the entrance to Pleasant Seas. There wasn’t much to say and he halfheartedly listened to her ramble on about the area. He’d heard it all before in history class.

“Pleasant Seas is more than an ordinary community,” said Mrs. Pitt, catching his attention. “It is unique.”

“Is everyone in Pleasant Seas magical?” he asked.

“Yes. That’s correct,” she said. She glanced across the street and waved hello to Cynric and Alfie Pinkstone. The two bachelor brothers stood in the middle of their garden. It was their prized possession and an impressive sight. It ran the length of their yard and contained every fruit, vegetable and herb imaginable.

“What about them?” asked Max, eying the brothers.

“The Pinkstone brothers were two of the finest alchemists of their time,” said Mrs. Pitt, proudly.

“What happened to them?”

“There are many that come to Pleasant Seas seeking a quiet, simple life, Max,” explained Mrs. Pitt.

A soft squeaking noise made him turn his head. “And what about her?” he asked, “Miss Marietta was my kindergarten teacher.” He watched the elderly woman rock back and forth. Her head lulled to one side and her eyes were closed.

“Milly was a wonderfully talented healer and still is,” said Mrs. Pitt, “These days; she’s content to pass the time in her rocker.”

They were close to the entrance and the giant blue house that stood to its right. Max could hear shouting coming from inside. It was twice the size of a normal house, possibly three. It had to be for the two individuals who occupied it. Four normal sized windows could fit into the one Mrs. Bertha Blue was currently hanging out of. She yelled at her son, Wunder. He ignored her and sat on the front steps with his guitar. Mrs. Blue caught sight of them and hollered across the way.

“Hello there, Petunia,” she shouted.

“Good day, Bertha,” said Mrs. Pitt, “How are things?”

“Just fine,” Bertha shouted in reply.

“You’ve done a fine job teaching Wunder how to play, Bertha,” said Mrs. Pitt.

“Thank you, Petunia. But, now I can’t get the boy to stop,” she screeched, “Day and night. I can’t get any peace around here.” Wunder did not look up from his guitar. Mrs. Pitt waved and moved on. Bertha went back to screaming at her son.

“Why does she shout like that?” asked Max.

“She doesn’t. That is as normal as you will get from Bertha and Wunder,” said Mrs. Pitt, “What do you expect from a half-giant, Max?”

“What…?” He looked over his shoulder at the blue house. He thought they were unusually tall and big boned, but now it made sense. “Are they magical, too?”

“Yes. Did you see the guitar that Wunder was playing?” asked Mrs. Pitt.

Max nodded.

“Playing an instrument is a long standing tradition in their family. It was once said that a giant’s melody was so entrancing that humans and animals alike would fall under its spell,” said Mrs. Pitt.

“So, what happened? Why are they here?” he asked, looking across the street to Hobart Cemetery, then over to the Downs. He wondered if the strange woman would show up again.

“That, dear boy, is a story for another time. We are here,” said Mrs. Pitt, pointing at the entrance to Pleasant Seas.

“I don’t understand. Why are we standing here?”

“Do you see that sign right there?” asked Mrs. Pitt.

“Yes. I see it every day,” he said. “Pleasant Seas Community. Private. Deliveries Go To Main Office.” He thought about what he’d read. “Wait a minute. Pleasant Seas doesn’t have a main office. There’s never been a delivery truck.”

Mrs. Pitt smiled. “We do receive mail and packages like any other community….only different,” she said.

That doesn’t make any sense, he thought.

“How different?” he asked, “Does it pop out of thin air or levitate in?” He stared at the sign.

“Not quite. Remember the Ostium?”

“Oh,” he said, nodding his head.

She walked over and muttered something under her breath, then ran her hand over the length of the wooden sign. The letter changed and formed new words as her hand passed over them. When she was done, she stepped back to study her handiwork. “Now, read it.”

“Pleasant Seas: A Community for the Magically Fatigued.” His eyebrows shot up and he turned to her, confused.

“Magically fatigued?”

“There are many reasons why people come here, Max. Some believe living as a non-magical being is a simpler way of life. Many came here after the first battle with Isolde. Their power was worn thin and without Pleasant Seas, they never would’ve survived,” she explained, as they continued walking.

“What about you and Mr. Scrine?” he asked, “Both of you have power, right?”

“Yes, we do. Renny is amazing with creatures of all walks of life,” she said, “As for me? My magic tends to sputter every now and then.”

“What about my mom? Was she magically fatigued? Is that why we came here?” he asked. Maybe now, he would finally get some answers.

“Annora has always been as strong as they come. Your mother is very talented. She was a natural since the day she understood what she could do.”

“Then why did she come here?”

“I will leave that for her to explain,” said Mrs. Pitt.

“If she’s so strong, why was she taken? Why isn’t she here?”

“Your mother may be safe for the time being, but dark magic cannot always be defeated by one individual.”

Max felt his frustration building. “Then why aren’t we doing anything?”

“Max, you can’t rush in to save your mother,” said Mrs. Pitt, “You will put yourself in danger and, most certainly, cause more harm to her.” She stopped again and stood in front of a massive oak tree. “Everything is being taken care. Your job is to remain calm and my job is to see that you do,” said Mrs. Pitt, pointing at the tree, “Now, look up. What do you see?”

The tree was more than he could take in and he had to step back. “It’s a tree. There are branches, leaves and a trunk,” he said, craning his neck back.

“Peculiar,” she said, tapping a finger to her chin. She waved her hand across the length of the trunk.

He looked up again. His mouth dropped open. The tree was alight with color. The branches and leaves were covered in brilliant hues and they were alive. He took a step closer to a low hanging limb. Butterflies in varying shades perched on the branch and slowly fluttered their wings. “It’s amazing,” he said, moving a finger closer to a red butterfly. When it didn’t move, he pulled his finger away and looked over his shoulder. Mrs. Pitt was smiling up at the colorful tree.

“What do you see, Max?”

“Butterflies,” he said, stretching his arms wide, “Thousands of butterflies.” Mrs. Pitt furrowed her brow. “I’d like to show you one more thing and then we’ll head back to the house.”

He hesitated and watched the living tree. “Amazing,” he said, then hurried to catch up.

They followed the road around to the farthest corner of Pleasant Seas. He had never been down that way before and didn’t know what to expect. He walked, warily, beside Mrs. Pitt. It was the side closest to the Downs and he searched for any sign of the woman he had seen earlier. Mrs, Pitt led him to a barn. He read the sign posted outside.

“DANGER. KEEP OUT. Mrs. Pitt, is it safe to go in there?” he asked, as she walked to the barn door.

“That’s just for show. Renny put that up there so he wouldn’t be bothered,” she said, and pulled the door open.

They walked in and Max looked around. Hay was stacked against one wall and a saddle, feed bags, and brushes were stacked against the other. A ladder led to a dimly lit loft up top. He followed her to a stall in the corner. It was triple the size of a normal stall and the only one in the barn. Expecting to see several horses, he peered over the gate, but there was only one. It stood off to the side in a darkened corner and its breathing was slow and steady.

Mrs. Pitt ran her hand across the length of the gate. Max was about to ask why she kept doing that and what it was for, when the horse moved and stuck its head out of the stall. It was the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen, but then again, he’d never been around any other horse before. The horse was large and it didn’t take much for its nose to reach him. It sniffed his shirt and snorted. Its breath was warm against his chest. It tilted its head and he caressed the sides of its face.

“What do you see, Max?” asked Mrs. Pitt.

The horse nuzzled his hand. Its sleek black coat shimmered in the dim light of the barn and he watched his reflection in its large dark eye. “It’s the greatest horse ever,” he said, scratching behind its ear.

“Hmmph. Peculiar,” she said.

“Mrs. Pitt, why do you keep asking me what I see when you’re standing right next to me?” he asked.

She ignored him and tapped her chin. He stroked the horse’s nose and looked over at her. After a few seconds, she turned towards the door. “We’d better be heading back, Max,” she said.

He felt safe next to the horse and wanted to stay a little longer, but, he needed to know if Mr. Scrine or the gnomes had found out anything about his mom. He followed Mrs. Pitt outside. She slid the door closed and they walked quietly back to his house.

Hodgenock followed the old woman and the boy around the neighborhood. He made sure to keep his distance and remain hidden.

When the old woman had done her magic tricks with the sign and the tree, he had hoped to see some evidence of his stone, but there was none. As far as he could tell, the boy was a dud. No magic at all. He hid behind one side of the barn and watched them walk away.

7

The tall, slender woman quietly approached the door. She put her ear to it and listened. When no sound came from inside, she turned the knob and slowly opened it. The room was bathed in moonlight and cast shadows in each of its corners. There was no movement from the bed in the center of the room. She shuffled closer with caution and placed a hand to her mouth to keep from crying out. The woman in the bed was pale and gaunt. Where there was once a radiant beauty, in her place was a picture of death.

“Griselda,” she said, softly. The woman in the bed opened her eyes and looked at her.

“It’s time, sister,” the woman whispered.

“Are you sure, Griselda? Is there nothing I can do for you?” she asked, “The boy knows nothing about us. Perhaps he will not come willingly.” She moved closer to the bed and knelt down beside her sister. She was filled with an overwhelming amount of guilt and sorrow. She should’ve done more when they attacked, but defensive magic was never her strong suit and Griselda had stepped in to protect her.

Griselda attempted to turn on her side; her breathing labored by the movement. “We have no time to worry over such matters, Esther. You must get the boy and bring him here before it’s too late. Someone has taken Annora and in order to save her, we must get the boy,” said Griselda. She inched her way to an upright position and leaned toward her younger sister. She grabbed the side of the bed to steady herself. The evil inside her writhed hot and angry.

Esther gaped openly as black veins of dark magic slithered up and down Griselda’s face. “I am so sorry, Griselda. I should’ve…” Her words were cut off by the sob that hung in her throat.

Griselda held up her hand to quiet her sister. She knew there was no time. Soon she would be nothing more than a pile of bones. The dark magic was taking over and there was little chance of stopping it. She tried healing herself, but she could not feel her own magic. Even now, she called to it, but it was no use. The strains of dark magic were too strong. “Esther, I trust you to get the job done quickly. Go. Take Cragge with you. Fuster will tend to my needs. You must have the boy here by tomorrow’s eve. I fear I may not last much longer. It may be too late for Annora as we speak,” said Griselda, breathlessly. She laid her head back on the pillow and closed her eyes.

With a last glance at her sister, Esther closed the bedroom door and hurried down the darkened hallway. Her long, white hair flowed behind her like a cape. The house was quiet, except for the pitter-patter of her feet on the wooden floor. One would expect a seventeenth century home to be full of strange noises, but since the attack, it was as though it were dying alongside Griselda. Her heart ached. Normally, she found comfort in the shadows and her garden. A secret place where she sat and listened to the sounds of the night and breathed in the mixture of the floral scents around her. She longed to be there now.

Convincing Max to come with her would be next to impossible. It had been twelve years since they were face to face with Annora and Max was just a newborn then.

Moonlight streamed in through the front windows as Esther hurried through the house. It was usually an invitation for the Nightlings to come out and play. The little shadows of child-like creatures were drawn to her power and she had, inadvertently, become their protector. They would skitter along the walls and giggle softly, coaxing her to play with them. But, they were gone now; taken by the creatures that had slithered over the garden wall.

Esther crossed the great hall through to the kitchen and on to the servant’s quarters. Cragge opened the door as she approached. The dwarf had a keen sense as to when something was wrong and stared at her with a worried frown.

“It is time to go, Cragge. We are leaving,” said Esther, then told him what she and Griselda had discussed.

“What about the diamond, madam? Does the boy still have it?” he asked, with concern. His bushy eyebrows formed one hairy line across his forehead. “If he is to come here, then we must take back what was gifted. To insure its safety, of course.”

Esther looked at him and raised an eyebrow. She was surprised by what he was saying, but kept her emotions in check. “Cragge, I am positive he still has it. We would, most certainly, know if he didn’t,” she said. “There are many who would like to get their hands on the diamond. Many of whom would come to a very sad ending.”

Cragge stepped out into the hallway and closed his bedroom door.

“We don’t have much time,” said Esther, “We must get Max now.”

8

When Max and Mrs. Pitt returned to the house, he had hoped for some news about his mom. But, the gnome that went through the Ostium had not been seen since early that morning. He couldn’t concentrate and paced the length of the house. When that didn’t calm his nerves, he gave up and went to bed early. He tossed and turned. His mind raced with so many unanswered questions.

Magic is real, he thought. His mom had magic. Why did she keep it a secret? Mrs. Pitt. Mr. Scrine. The gnomes. Why didn’t he see it before? He tried to think of any signs he might’ve missed over the years, but nothing came to mind. The idea that things he had read in books were not just make believe was hard to grasp. He rolled over on his side and tried to relax.

His bedroom door creaked open and he figured it was Bartholomew or Mrs. Pitt coming to check on him. When Bartholomew didn’t jump up on the bed and Mrs. Pitt didn’t close the door, curiosity got the better of him. He rolled over on his back and opened his eyes to see what was going on. Black smoke swirled and rolled through his room. A strange woman stood over him. He tried to sit up, but his body was stuck to the bed. He opened his mouth to scream for help, but his lips were sealed shut. The woman stared down at him and held up her hand. He tried, desperately, to kick his legs or move his arms and felt every muscle straining against his skin, but it was no use. The woman was angry. That much he knew from the look on her face. She was dressed in all black and her dark hair was pulled back, severely, into a bun at the top of her head. Her face was long, thin, and ghostly white. He pleaded with her with his eyes, but she paid no attention.

She leaned closer to him and a wicked grin spread across her thin lips. “It’s time to die, Max,” she hissed, “Your mother has been very cooperative. You will reunite with her shortly.” The woman ran her finger down his cheek. Her claw-like nail burned his skin from the corner of his eye down to his jaw. Salty tears slid down his face into the scratch and caused it to burn. His heart pounded against his chest.

“You dirty, little mongrel. I intend to rip the stone from your chest,” the woman growled. He knew that voice. It was the same one from the museum. Was the woman standing over him Isolde? “It belongs to me and I will have my revenge.” His head started to spin and his stomach knotted. He was going to be sick.

It has to be a nightmare, he thought. He willed her to go away and pleaded with himself to wake up.

“Stupid human. I assure you, I am very real,” the woman said.

She can hear me, he thought. His hands grew warm and ached with pin-pricks of pain. In his mind, he screamed at her. Take whatever you want. Just leave me alone. The woman leaned her head back and cackled. Tell me where my mom is. The woman put her finger to her lips and shushed him.

Max listened for any sound of movement in the house, but it was quiet. He thought of Mrs. Pitt and Bartholomew in the other room and wondered what the woman had done to them. She placed a hand over his chest and a surge of heat, followed by a stabbing pain rushed through him. She started to speak and the pain grew. Tears flowed freely from his eyes and added to to the burn from her fingernail.

She’s going to kill me, he thought, frantically. STOP. He silently screamed over and over. His hands grew warmer. The woman stumbled backwards, but quickly came back at him. She stared at him with wild eyes. Pressure squeezed around his neck and cut off his air.

“Around my neck the stone shall be. A dead little boy is what I see. Feel your bones break in two. Your skin pulled tight as blood rushes through. Tear your heart out. A curse for your theft. Rip you apart till there’s nothing left.” She stood up and crossed her arms. An odd wetness trickled from from his nose, ears, and the corners of his eyes. His body was cold.

Is this what it really feels like to die? he wondered.

The woman leaned in closer and smiled wickedly. An image of his mom ran through his head and then there was nothing, but darkness.

Hodgenock rolled onto his side and grunted. Although he was comfortably hidden in a circle of garbage cans. The hard ground gave no comfort to his already stiff limbs. He let out a frustrated huff, then sat up. The stink of the garbage wafted through his nose and down his throat, but he didn’t mind. He’d been in worse places. He peeked above one of the cans and looked around. There was no need to worry about being seen. It was late. The moon was full and at its highest. Pleasant Seas had been asleep for hours. He had watched the boy’s house until his eyes had grown heavy. But, there was no going back to sleep now and it was probably for the best. Hunger pains gnawed at his belly and there’d be no rest until he could fill it. He thought about rummaging through the garbage cans, but decided against it. He was no rat and would not scrounge like one.

Something moved in the shadows and for a moment, he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him. He rubbed his eyes with the back of his sleeve and looked again. It was no trick. Thick, black mist rolled through the streets of Pleasant Seas. It twisted and circled each house. Hunger pains forgotten, he dipped lower behind the garbage cans as the mist drew closer. It was hunting for something or someone.

Another stream of black mist rolled in from the opposite direction and he threw his hood over his head. He was far enough away from the street and shielded in darkness, but he wasn’t taking any chances. It approached the garbage cans, then bolted over his head. He ducked down as far as he could go and watched it circle the old woman’s house. The mist converged on the boy’s house and disappeared inside.

Hodgenock slowly stood up. He didn’t know what or who they were, but he knew he had to get help. He ran through the shadows to the old man’s house. All the lights were out, but he’d make sure to wake the neighborhood, if he had to. He banged on the door and pulled his hood farther down his face. The old man flung the door open. He looked angry, but Hodgenock didn’t care.

“You must hurry,” he said, “The boy and the old woman are in danger.” The old man stared at him, groggy with sleep. “Who are you?” he asked. Hodgenock ignored him. “Beings of black mist have swarmed the boy’s home. You must get help. Now.” His words registered across the old man’s face.

Hodgenock left him standing in the doorway and ran back towards Max’s house. The night was eerily quiet. Even the crickets had stopped chirping. He crept towards the house and peered in through the window. What he saw sent shivers down his spine. The old woman was sprawled on the sofa. A plump dog was on the floor next to her. The mist was in constant motion. It entered the old woman and the dog through one ear and out the other, then through the nose and back out again. He didn’t know what to do. He had no magic to fight them with and he couldn’t smash them like he wanted to. The mist separated and disappeared down a hallway. He knew it was headed for the boy’s room, but there was nothing he could do to stop it. He kicked himself for not revealing his identity sooner. He should’ve been in there. He only hoped the old man would bring reinforcements before it was too late.

Renny Scrine threw on his overalls and boots, then placed his palms against the Ostium in his living room. It only took a few seconds for the knock to come, but it felt like forever. He threw the door open with a bang. “What took you so long?” he growled. The little brown man stared up at him with large, dark eyes. “I thought brownies were supposed to be fast,” grumbled Renny. The brownie’s ears twitched. He was used to it. It came with the job.

Renny scribbled on a piece of paper and shoved it into the brownie’s hand. “You must get this to Knoxby at top speed,” he said, “There’s extra coins in it for you.” He stuffed the coins into the brownie’s other hand. “You must deliver this message faster than ever before. Can you do that?” he asked. The brownie nodded and disappeared. Renny slammed the door and ran for Max’s house.

Hodgenock stood outside the window, watching and waiting. The mist creature continued to move in and out of the old woman and her dog. It was hard to tell if they were still alive. Heavy footsteps pounded on the road behind him and he knew it was the old man. He backed away from the house and into the shadows. The old man ran to the old woman’s porch and frantically, waved his arms in the air. The gnomes came out and encircled him. The old man knelt down and spoke softly to them. The mist creatures rushed out of the boy’s house and were on the old man and gnomes in seconds. The creatures circled them in a thick tornado, then sped away. The old man crumpled to the ground. The gnomes spun into action. They lifted him up and quickly brought him inside the old woman’s house.

Hodgenock crept over to the window and peered in. The woman and her dog hadn’t moved. He pushed against the window and quietly lifted it up, then climbed in and crouched in the kitchen. He hesitated and listened for sounds from the boy’s bedroom. When there were none, he crawled along the floor to the dog and put his hand over its neck, then did the same to the woman. They were alive, but barely. He needed to get them to safety.

Hodgenock picked up the dog and ran with it next door, then went back for the woman. A knot formed in his stomach as he knelt beside the dog. “This is not over,” he muttered. “It’s just the beginning.” The mist would return. He pounded on the door, then jumped over the side of the porch and waited for the gnomes to drag them inside before heading back to the boy’s house. He hoped he wasn’t too late.

9

Knoxby was in the middle of a glorious feast when he received word from Renny Scrine. Normally, trolls were not commanded to do anything by anyone. Such demands resulted in being eaten alive. But, seeing as Renny had promised him three fat boars, he figured it was well worth it. He opened the wooden door in his underground home and stepped through. Trolls weren’t known for their speed, but he was no ordinary troll. With gifts of magic from his Mam and good looks from his Da, he was the best in the business and he knew it. He was at the boy’s Ostium in two shakes of a boars’ tail. The stench of blood and pain slammed into him and almost knocked him off his feet. He licked the door.

“Dark magic,” he gagged, spitting on the ground behind him.

Knoxby placed his palms flat against the door and pushed. It flew off its hinges into the room. He stepped across the threshold to find the witch standing over the boy. Her fingers were in his chest. He knew if he didn’t act fast, the boy would die, if he wasn’t dead already. He crouched and aimed both hands at the witch His magic welled up from deep inside his gut and exploded at her. She turned to look at him with her hand still inside the boy. A wicked grin spread across her lips, but it didn’t last long. His magic blasted her in the head. She slammed against the bedroom door and bounced out into the hallway.

Knoxby hurried to the bed. His magic couldn’t stand against the evil pouring out of the witch and he knew he had seconds before she came to. The boy was deathly pale. Blood dripped from his nose, ears and the corners of his eyes, but it was the boy’s chest that concerned him the most. Five holes stood open on the boy’s chest where the witch’s fingers had been.

The witch started to moan and he knew it was time to go.

Knoxby gently picked the boy up and hurried to the Ostium. Before the witch could regain full consciousness, he turned and aimed his backside in her direction. He lifted a leg and let out a huge cloud of green gas. It engulfed the witch and she went limp again. Lethal gas. A gift from his Da. He smiled to himself and disappeared into the Ostium. It didn’t take long to arrive at the old woman’s door. He tapped it with his boot and stared down at the boy. The old woman opened the door and ushered him in.

“Max. Oh dear,” she cried, “Is he alive?”

“The boy lives, but barely,” he said, pointing to the sofa. Mrs. Pitt nodded and moved out of the way. Knoxby laid Max down and stepped back, giving Mrs. Pitt room to examine him. Renny lay, unconscious, on another sofa. Gnomes ran back and forth, tending to him. The bright colors, frills, and flowers made Knoxby’s head spin. He preferred his damp, dimly lit hovel underground.

Mrs. Pitt placed a hand over Max’s eyes, ears, and nose. The trickle of blood slowed, but did not stop. She held her breath and pressed her fingers to his wrist. He had a pulse, but it was faint. She exhaled, shakily.

If only someone had told him years ago, he might’ve been able to protect himself, she thought. She jumped with a start when Knoxby cleared his throat.

“I’ll be taking my leave, madam. The boy’s been delivered and payment is due.”

“What were you promised?” she asked, grabbing a towel from the kitchen.

“Three fat boars, madam,” he answered.

Mrs. Pitt wiped Max’s face. “You will have the three boars, plus a few extras. You will find it waiting for you upon your return home.” Knoxby nodded and left through the Ostium. Mrs. Pitt dabbed at Max’s chest and gaped at the holes. “Hurry, Esther.” She tapped her chin with a finger and wondered if it was possible to get Max’s magic to work on its own.

There’d been no signs of magical ability earlier in the day. He hadn’t seen the pixies in the oak tree, nor the bayard in the barn. But, it was worth a shot. Perhaps a bit of her magic would be just the thing to jump start the healing process. She placed a hand over his heart and let her magic flow into him. She gagged and reared back from the feel of the dark magic running through him. The gnomes ran to her side. “I’m okay.” She waved them, steeled herself against the evil and repeated the process. She heard Renny come to, but ignored him. She forced her magic toward Max’s heart and the stone, but couldn’t get to them. Her magic wasn’t strong enough and she let her hand fall limply into her lap. It was her fault. If she had been more vigilant, Max would be safe. “I’m so sorry, Max. Please, hold on,” she whispered. “Hurry, Esther. Hurry.”

10

Esther and Cragge stepped into the Ostium and within minutes, she knew something was wrong. Ostium travel had always been a neutral zone; safe and fast, but the stench of death and decay hung heavy in the air. She knew of only one creature that smelled like that. Someone or something had let the Trith into the portal. There was no other option, but to run for their lives.

“Hurry, Cragge,” she said, grabbing the dwarf’s hand.

The pounding of the Trith’s feet grew louder. She bunched up her skirt and cloak and picked up her speed. Cragge’s hand was heavy in hers and he was lagging behind. She found it odd. He was far faster than any human, but there was no time to think it through. The Trith were getting closer. She tightened her grip and yanked him forward. He stumbled, but kept going. One misstep and they’d be eaten alive, bones and all. She had never seen the Trith up close, but heard plenty of stories about them. They wouldn’t stop until a kill was made and in this case, two.

Esther could see Petunia’s pink Ostium door up ahead. She put her hands up and threw a fireball at it. It wouldn’t cause any harm, but it would get Petunia’s attention. There was no time for niceties. The fireball hit the door and thundered through the portal. Petunia Pitt filled the doorway.

“Get out of the way,” screamed Esther. She pulled Cragge forward again and with both hands, pushed him inside, then whipped around in the doorway. The Trith’s red eyes glowed in the darkness.

“Get ready, Petunia,” yelled Esther. She aimed both hands at the Trith and threw white hot fire into the Ostium. The Trith yelped. Growls and whimpers filled the darkness. She kept it going until she was sure they were gone.

“Shut the door,” Esther commanded, as she backed into the living room.

“The Trith have never been in the Ostium before,” said Mrs. Pitt, locking the door.

Esther placed her hands on the door and a golden surge of light crackled and popped around its frame. “It’s no accident, Petunia,” she said, “They were on us moments after leaving Merrihaven.” She took a deep breath and turned around.

“Is this the boy, miss?” asked Cragge. Mrs. Pitt nodded.

Esther moved towards the sofa and looked Max over. She gasped and put her hands over her mouth. “Poor child,” she whispered.

“Knoxby got to him in time. We came very close to losing him and the stone,” said Mrs. Pitt.

Esther knelt down beside Max. The five holes in his chest said it all. “Who did this?” she asked, laying her hand over his damp forehead.

“Knoxby did not give any details. We can only assume the person or creature is still out there,” said Mrs. Pitt.

Mr. Scrine grunted and sat up. “A man in a dark hood came and got me,” he said, holding an icepack against his forehead, “I asked him who he was, but he disappeared.”

“Max must be healed before we can move him, but without Griselda, I am not sure it will work,” said Esther, looking up at Mrs. Pitt. “We must try, Petunia.” They placed their hands over Max. “Are you ready?” Mrs. Pitt nodded.

Cragge stood off to the side and craned his neck forward to get a better view.

“On the count of three,” said Esther. “One. Two. Now.”

White light flew from their fingertips into Max and filled each hole in his chest. He bucked and moaned, but remained unconscious. Cragge inched up behind them. Seconds turned to minutes his chest flared red.

“Stop, Petunia,” said Esther, “We did it, but it’s not complete without Griselda. We will be able to move him without causing further harm, though.” They watched as the holes crusted over and his eyes, ears, and nose stopped bleeding.

“He has lost a lot of blood,” said Esther.

Cragge peered around Mrs. Pitt in amazement. The boy has the stone, he thought, contentedly.

“We cannot use the Ostium. The Downs is our only option,” said Esther.

“The Downs?” gasped Mrs. Pitt, “You’ll be easy prey.”

Cragge pulled his attention away from Max’s chest to stare at Esther. “I do not think that is a good idea, madam,” he said.

“Cragge is right, Esther. Anyone who has ever gone down that road has never returned,” said Mrs. Pitt, “The non-magical humans don’t even go in there. Besides the Trith, goodness knows what else lives in the Downs.”

“What else can we do?” asked Esther, looking down at Max. A speck of color had returned to his cheeks, but he was still very pale. “We cannot use the Ostium,” she said, shaking her head, “The Downs is our only option. I see no other way.” She needed to get back to Griselda as quickly as possible. “The Downs may not be fast, but perhaps we will be safe with the Trith loose in the Ostium. We will need something of great speed and size.”

Mr. Scrine raised his hand. “I believe I can help with that.”

Hodgenock ran to the other side of the boy’s house. He didn’t know how he would fight the creatures, but he had to get the boy out of there. He peered through the window. It was the boy’s bedroom. Someone had come through the Ostium, because the closet door was off its hinges. He scanned the room. The bed was empty, but there were dark stains all over it.

Blood, he thought.

Movement in the hallway caught his eye and he repositioned himself to get a better look. A woman was sprawled on the floor. She came to and rushed back into the room. She screamed in rage at the sight of the empty bed. His insides turned cold. The woman stalked over to the Ostium. Hodgenock crouched lower so she wouldn’t see him. He expected her to leave, but she didn’t.

Her fingertips flared with magic. She lifted her arms and let it pour into the Ostium, then stepped back and moved to the side.

Witch, he thought. He gulped hard and his stomach churned as five Trith came through the opening. Their red eyes glowed in the dark and their stench was thick. He waited for them to attack, but they didn’t. The witch stuck out her hand and whispered to them. The Trith sniffed and gently licked her fingers. She cackled loudly and the beasts howled with her.

“Kill the boy and bring the stone to me,” she hissed.

Hodgenock knew he’d seen enough. He knelt down and crawled away from the window and then bolted for the old woman’s house. He flew up the porch steps and threw himself at the door. It opened and he stumbled inside. Everyone jumped and stared wide-eyed at him. “The witch is coming.” He quickly told them what he had seen. The old woman ran to the phone and the old man blew on a whistle that made no sound. But, it was the sight of the boy lying on the sofa that captured his attention. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear the boy was dead.

Hodgenock moved closer and swallowed hard when he saw the five holes on the boy’s chest. “Blessed be, they’ve got his scent,” he muttered.

“What’s that?” asked Renny, standing up.

“Those beasts licked the witch’s fingers like pups suckling on their mama’s nip,” said Hodgenock.

“We must leave now,” said Esther, “Petunia, are they coming?”

“On the way,” she said.

Hodgenock looked around for another way out, but besides the Ostium, he didn’t see one. “How will we escape?” he asked.

“We will climb out my bedroom window. It is out of view,” said Mrs. Pitt, “We will escape behind the houses until we reach the road. From there, we will make our way through the Downs.”

Hodgenock watched her open the door to a birdcage in the kitchen and grab the canary inside. His eyebrows shot up when it turned its head and meowed. The old woman whispered in the creature’s ear. It closed its eyes, purred and chirped. She walked it to a back room and when she returned the creature was gone. The gnomes appeared and gathered around the old man. The small group whispered furiously amongst themselves.

“It has been a long time, Hodgenock,” said a woman, in a cloak. He looked closely at her face, but did not recognize her. “I’m sorry. Do I know you?” he asked. Her mouth turned up slightly.

“I wouldn’t expect you to,” she said, “The last time we saw one another my sister had her talon wrapped around your collar.”

His mouth fell open and he blinked at her. “Crow?” he mumbled.

“It seems we keep meeting under dire circumstances,” she sighed, “But, it is good to see you well.” She patted him on the shoulder. He closed his mouth and nodded.

A beautiful melody started in the distance. Mrs. Pitt ran around the room shoving earplugs in everyone’s hands. “Put these in your ears or Bertha and Wunder will have you under their spell for the next few hours,” she said.

Renny put the earplugs in and peered through the curtains. “Bertha and Wunder are coming down the road. The Trith are outside,” he reported loudly, “Everyone to the bedroom window.”

Hodgenock picked up Max. He waited for Renny to grab the dog, then followed him to the back of the house. Even with the earplugs in, the melody outside was gloriously distracting. He wanted to linger on every note and let it consume him. Renny leaned back in the window and grabbed his arm.

“Focus, little man, or the Trith will have you in one bite.”

Hodgenock shook off the effects of the music and handed Max through the window, then climbed out as the music changed to something fast and furious. A bayard waited beside the back of the house. Its body rippled and extended three times its normal size and knelt down in the grass. Hodgenock waited for the others to get on. When they were done, there was just enough room on the animal’s rump for him. He situated himself and held on tight to the back of the saddle. It had been many moons since he had seen a bayard. He ran a hand over its sleek, black coat. Bayards were known for being overly chatty, but this one was silent and calm. It was the largest one he’d ever laid eyes on. The music at the front of the house changed once more. It was off key and angry.

“Hold on everyone,” shouted Renny. He held the dog in his lap with one hand and snapped the reigns with the other.

Growls and snarls mixed with the music. Bertha and Wunder were losing control. The bayard turned its body around and bolted forward. Hodgenock expected to be bounced around, but the ride was smooth. He turned his body in the saddle and looked in between the houses. Two half-giants stood in the middle of the road with their instruments aimed at the Trith. Streams of light and musical notes wrapped around the Trith like a thick rope. The beasts fought against it, causing the music to strain and the spell to weaken. He caught a glimpse of the witch behind the Trith. Her magic strangled the musical notes. One by one, they blinked out. The half-giants played on and filled the air with bent and broken notes. The witch threw her magic and tore at the melody holding the Trith in place. The evil grin plastered across her face sent shivers down his spine. He couldn’t watch anymore and turned back around. The bayard glided over the grass towards the street at the very moment the music hit several sour notes and stopped.

“Hold tight. They’re coming,” shouted Renny, “Like the wind, Leofwin.”

The Trith’s howls echoed in the night air. The bayard galloped out into the street, then picked up its speed.

“Brace yourselves,” shouted Renny, as they sped toward the cement blocks. The bayard sailed over the barrier and landed, gracefully, on the pavement, then propelled itself forward.

The Downs was coal-black, but Hodgenock looked around with ease. A yellow dot was coming at break neck speed and headed right for them. He ducked as it sped past him. It flapped its wings, furiously, beside the old woman. It was the cat-bird creature. The Trith’s snarling drew closer. Hodgenock glanced over his shoulder for any sign of the Trith. Five pairs of blood-red eyes shone through the darkness.

“The Trith are coming,” he shouted, “Off to your left.”

The old woman shouted, “Now, Harold.” The little creature took off into the Downs.

Hodgenock lost sight of it and was about to mourn the cat-bird when a line of fire exploded in the trees. The little creature flew behind them and over to the other side. Fire poured from its mouth and created a barrier between them and the Trith. He turned around and gripped the saddle until his knuckles turned white. The bayard’s hooves pounded on the pavement toward the end of the road. They were almost out of the Downs and away from the witch. He choked back a sigh of relief. The witch appeared and blocked the only way out. She threw her magic into the Downs in a series of rapid bursts.

“Get down,” screamed Renny, ducking low on the bayard’s back.

Hodgenock hesitated a moment too long. The witch’s magic whizzed by his head and singed his hair. He quickly patted at his head, then dipped down as low as he could get.

Esther’s hand shot out and a ball of fire appeared. She hurled it through the air, but it fizzled out before it reached the witch. She tried again with help from Petunia. A double dose of white hot magic hurled toward the witch’s head. The witch laughed, hysterically and clapped her hands together. Esther and Petunia’s magic disappeared in a puff of smoke.

“Renny, what do we do?” cried Petunia.

“We mow her down. That’s what we do,” he growled, snapping the reigns. “Stomp her into the ground, Leofwin.” The bayard was almost on her. They could feel the heat of the dark magic oozing off of the witch’s body. Hodgenock grabbed more of the saddle when it grew soft in his hands.

Harold, the cat-bird, flew over their heads and blasted a stream of fire at the witch. It reached her, but she sucked it in and threw it back at them. The little creature flew up out of the way and the bayard swerved just in time.

Hodgenock knew they weren’t going to get out alive. The witch was too strong and the Trith were still behind them. They were only a few yards away and closing the distance fast. He could see her face clearly now. She smiled and rubbed her hands together. They had nowhere to go and she knew it.

A dark figure stepped out of the shadows behind the witch. It crouched down and blasted her in the back. She went flying off to the side of the road and the figure hit her again.

“Oh, blessed be, it’s Knoxby,” shouted Petunia, as the bayard sped out of the Downs and into the clearing.

“Merrihaven, Knoxby,” shouted Renny.

Hodgenock watched the dark figure blast the witch a third time and realized it was a troll and a familiar one at that. Knoxby waved and jogged behind them. He spied the large tree stump at the other end of the clearing and suddenly realized where he was. The last time he was here was here, Mibbitwiss was killed by the Trith. He gritted his teeth and looked away.

One day I will have my revenge, he thought.

Leofwin sped through the clearing with ease and entered the other side of the Downs. Heads turned and shoulders tensed, searching for any sign of the witch or the Trith. It wasn’t as dark, but it was still just as dangerous. Hodgenock held his breath until the bayard galloped out of the Downs. The bayard and its passengers were greeted with a full moon that gave the lush rolling hills an ethereal blue-green wash of color.

Hodgenock peered around Esther as an expansive estate came into view. It was bathed in partial shadow, which made it difficult to see its full size. He would get a better look in the daylight. Right now, he wanted nothing more than the promise of safety it held and a bit of shut-eye.

The bayard slowed its pace when it reached the estate grounds. A collective sigh of relief ran over the animal from its riders. It came to a stop in front of a large door bordered by a mixture of flowers. Their scent was heavy in the night air, but it was a welcome one.

Hodgenock breathed deep and allowed the others to get off the bayard first. Renny slid off and put the dog on the ground. He was handed the boy so the other dwarf could help Esther down.

Hodgenock hopped off the bayard and held out his arms to the old man. “I will carry the boy, so that you may care for the bayard,” he said. The old man nodded and placed Max in his arms.

Heavy thumping could be heard coming over the hills and Hodgenock turned with a start. He relaxed when the troll appeared. He joined the group and smiled. “I see the party has started without me,” he joked.

Renny shook the troll’s hand and thanked him repeatedly. Petunia hugged him tight and then held him at arm’s length. “Knoxby, how did you know?” she asked.

“The boy’s wounds were too severe and the witch too evil for it to be that easy,” he said, “I don’t believe that is the last we will see of her.”

“You are right,” said Esther, “I believe the worst is yet to come, but thank you for coming to our aide.”

The troll nodded, sheepishly, at her. “It was nothing,” he said. He looked over at Hodgenock, nodded a greeting and then approached the bayard. “Renny, how long have you had such a fine beast?” asked Knoxby.

Renny smiled, proudly, and patted the bayard’s back. It snorted and moved its head up and down. “Leofwin has been with me many years. He’s family,” said Renny. “But, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll take him to the stables.”

“They are around back and to your left, Renny,” said Esther, “You should find everything you need.”

Hodgenock watched the old man lead the bayard away.

“It is a wonderful animal, isn’t it?” asked the other dwarf.

He hadn’t heard the dwarf approach. “Yes, it is,” he said, shifting Max’s weight in his arms.

Without warning, the other dwarf grabbed hold of Max and started pulling him out of Hodgenock’s arms. “I will take the boy for you,” said the dwarf, “He must be getting heavy.”

Hodgenock stepped back and his eyebrows shot up in surprise. “The boy is fine where he is,” he said, staring the other dwarf down. The dwarf held on and tried lifting Max instead.

“Cragge, why don’t you show everyone inside,” said Esther. The dwarf held on a moment longer and then let go. His shoulders slumped and he bowed his head.

“Yes, madam,” he said, “Follow me.”

Cragge led them to a large room filled with a long table, overstuffed chairs and a sofa. Books, old and new, lined the walls. Hodgenock laid Max on the sofa and sat by his feet. He was still unconscious, but there was more color in his face. The old woman sat on the edge of the sofa and felt the boy’s head. Then she lifted his shirt and examined his wounds. She nodded with satisfaction and pulled his shirt down.

Another dwarf came into the room and cleared his throat. “Madam, your sister is asking for you,” he said.

“Right away, Fuster,” said Esther, throwing off her cloak, “Everyone, please make yourself at home.” She hurried out of the room.

The old woman stayed by the boy’s side. She patted his hand and watched for a response. The dwarf, called Cragge, walked over to them. He stood too close and eyed the boy. Hodgenock felt his anger burn.

“Cragge, is it?” asked the old woman.

“Yes, madam,” said the dwarf.

“Why don’t you go help Knoxby in the kitchen,” she said, “Trolls are not graceful, nor are they tidy creatures.” She stared him in the eye and he backed up.

“Yes, madam,” he said, reluctantly, leaving the room.

Hodgenock watched him leave. “I do not trust him,” he said.

“Neither do I,” the old woman agreed, staring at the door.

The dwarf called Fuster returned to show them all to their rooms. The troll insisted on sleeping outside and disappeared for the night. Hodgenock insisted on the room next door to Max. He was not used to such finery and made himself a comfortable spot on the floor by the door. His distrust for Cragge was growing and it would be easier to hear any movement in the hall from his bedding on the floor. It wasn’t long before he drifted off to sleep.

You have reached the end of the free preview, but the story doesn’t end here…

Available now in ebook & print.

 

For more free previews & great reads visit

www.kathycyr.weebly.com

[About the Author
**
Kathy Cyr currently writes in an underground cave, but has her eye on a wizard’s castle. On an average day, she’s usually surrounded by a dwarf with a curious addiction to coffee, a moody dragon and a pink pixie with a large sweet tooth. When not writing books, she can be found daydreaming about faraway places, enjoying a cup of coffee with the dwarf, sharing a laugh with the moody dragon (when he’s in the mood) and sitting on a rainbow of treats with the pink pixie. www.kathycyr.weebly.com
**
**]

[*More Books *
**
Max Hamby and the Emerald Hunt, Book 2 Max Hamby and the Onyx Eyes, Book 3 Max Hamby and the Faeryn Cross, Book 4]

Max Hamby and the Blue Fire, Book 5


Max Hamby and the Blood Diamond - Free 10 Chapters

The first book in the children's fantasy series – Max Hamby It's the end of the school year and the day of the class field trip. Twelve year old Max Hamby gets locked in a strange room at the museum. It sets off a string of events that sends his life into a tailspin. An unwitting recipient of a magical stone as a baby, the Blood Diamond has awakened. Witches. Wizards. Gnomes. Dwarfs. Trolls. Giants. Max is left reeling when his mother disappears. The Shadow Stone is to blame. The key to a wasteland for the dead and a prison for a five hundred year old witch. It was never meant to be found. Now someone is using it to free the witch and has marked Max for death. In a good versus evil battle, he must use his power to fight for his life and find his mother before it's too late

  • Author: Kathy Cyr
  • Published: 2017-02-08 14:05:13
  • Words: 21642
Max Hamby and the Blood Diamond - Free 10 Chapters Max Hamby and the Blood Diamond - Free 10 Chapters