Authors: Sherwood Smith
Tags: #fantasy, #ebook, #book view cafe
Book View Café Edition April 2011
Copyright © 2010 Sherwood Smith
Joe stretched out his hand to grab the little book off the
library shelf and his fingers bumped against another hand.
He stared at the freckled fingers under his own brown ones
as though they’d somehow sprouted from the books. A thin wrist attached to the
hand. His gaze traveled up the wrist past a shabby blue sleeve to meet the
unfriendly blue eyes of a girl.
He snatched his hand away. “Yuk!”
“I saw it first,” the girl whispered fiercely. Her gaze
shifted to the shelf and she reached again, but this time Joe was faster.
He grabbed the little brown book and slapped it up against
his jacket. Then he scanned the category sign at the top of the bookshelf. It
still said ADVENTURE STORIES. He glanced over his shoulder at the regular
fiction area, where all the books with the pink covers were shelved, wondering
if this girl had somehow gotten lost.
Her freckled cheeks flushed with anger. “Give it back,” she
said in a low voice. “Go play video games or something.”
Joe snorted. “Finders keepers.”
“I found it first,” she muttered even more fiercely, one of
her shoulders hunching as she darted a quick look around. “Give it to me.”
Why was she acting like that? No one paid them any attention.
Most of the boys were having a shoving fight at the drinking fountain near the
Sports section, and a gaggle of girls stood by the vampire stories, yakking
Joe looked at the redhead again, trying to remember her
name. She always sat at the back of English class. She was glaring at him so
nastily he was tempted to shove her out of the way and say, “Make me.” He
couldn’t stand girls, from his older sisters to the giggling squads who hogged
up the hallways. But there was something about the corners of her mouth that
reminded him of his little brother when he was about to lose it and start
bawling. So he just shrugged and said, “We can share it.”
She blinked as though he’d hit her. The anger faded out of
her cheeks, making the freckles stand out like they’d been painted on.
“I’ll read it tonight, and hand it off to you tomorrow,” he
Her lips parted, but before she could speak a screechy laugh
ripped at them from behind. “Oooh, lookie
. The Goat’s got a
McKynzi Kerne and the rest of her gang had left the vampire
books. McKynzi’s pals giggled like crazy, but McKynzi just cracked her gum,
smiling like a shark. “Gettin’ desperate, huh, Joey?” McKynzi sneered.
“Whatever.” Geez, Joe hated girls. They were so freaking
He was about to jet when he happened to glance at the
redhead—Nan something, he remembered. She looked sick, her shoulders hunched,
and her fingers clutching her books tight. That stance reminded him even more
of Benny when their sister Mar Tee picked on him.
Joe spoke again. “Aw, can it, McKynzi.” Raising his voice
slightly, he added, “You’re gonna bring Ms. Murata on us.”
Sure enough, the teacher looked over in their direction.
At once the girls moved off, McKynzi faking a studious
expression as she ran her fingers over the books next to her. Her clones
whispered and giggled after her.
“Tomorrow,” he muttered to Nan Something, and got outa
He didn’t look back—and she didn’t say anything or try to
catch up. Later, when the class walked back to their room, he did a quick take
down the line. Nan was at the end, walking with her head lowered, and a couple
of library books in her arms.
He glanced curiously at the little book he’d checked out.
Just a skinny book, with a worn brown cover, and the words
printed in gold along the spine and on the cover. The author’s name had worn
off—the lettering couldn’t be made out.
He hadn’t even looked inside. The title had been enough to
draw his interest when he’d gone browsing along the shelves; he’d been over the
small collection in the Adventure section enough times he thought it impossible
that he could have overlooked this one. It certainly wasn’t new. Maybe some kid
in the older grades had had it over the fall semester, and just turned it in
Whatever, he thought, as the bell rang and he swept his
books under his arm. He was just glad he got it. He needed a good adventure
story. With luck it might even have magic in it. Too bad it was such a short
From around the corner of the administrative building Nan
watched Joseph Robles get on the bus. Her eyes stung, and she angrily scrubbed
her knuckles over them.
“You stupid creep,” she muttered under her breath. A hot
tear spilled across the back of her hand. She wrenched away and ran into the
girls’ bathroom before someone saw her and started making fun of her babyish
Why was it that every time she found something, or did
something special, someone just had to ruin it? Why had she been born under a
That book was special—she’d felt it the moment she saw it.
She knew every one of the titles in the small Adventure section by heart now.
The librarian frowned on stories about magic, or other worlds, or sci-fi, and
the few books in the Adventure section were all that was left from the librarian
who’d retired last year. As soon as these looked even faintly worn, Nan had
discovered when overhearing the librarian talking to a teacher, they’d be
books. Solid books about real children learning useful
Nan had been at this school only four months, but she’d
already read everything on those shelves at least once—and this little brown
, had been new. Not just new; the one time she
touched it, it felt different, somehow.
And some stupid, popular, sports-nut creep boy had grabbed
Nan shoved her fist into her open mouth, trying to stifle a
sob forming deep in her chest that threatened to strangle her if she let it
When Joe walked into his house, the first thing he noticed
was the warm air and the smell of baking chicken. After the sleety freeze of
his walk from the bus stop, it was welcome. Less welcome, but completely
familiar, was the noise. There was the television, and underneath that, the
faint but steady thump-thump of his oldest sister Maria’s stereo upstairs. As
he passed by the kitchen, he heard his mother talking on the phone, trying to
be heard over the sound of the television in the den.
Nobody was in the den watching the TV. Joe cruised through
and flicked it off. He knew his mother wouldn’t notice one way or the other.
As soon as the television was off, the voices got louder.
Sharp voices—the shrill one of his little brother, and the angry shriek of his
second sister. He started for the stairs and the rise and fall of the voices
resolved into words.
Mar Tee said nastily, “...and just
gets home. When he sees what you’ve done with his stuff, he’ll
you stupid little brat.”
“He will not,” Benny yelled back in a high, ragged voice
which meant he was in tears.
Cocking his head, Joe wondered if—for once—his mother would
get off the phone and stop Mar Tee from picking on the kid, but no. Mom laughed
and went on yakking ninety miles an hour. As usual. It was up to Joe—as usual.
“And you get out of here, you little rodent,” Mar Tee
snarled. “Go home! Find somebody else to play with!”
Joe was halfway up the stairs when a small figure hurtled
down toward him. He put out his arm and stopped the little boy, who stiffened,
his eyes magnified behind his huge glasses.
“Wait a sec, Jordan,” Joe whispered. “Wait right here.”
The little boy collapsed like a punctured balloon onto the
“And that’s another thing,” Mar Tee yelled even louder. “Why
do you have to play with that gross-looking little dork? Do you want people to
are a dork? If you don’t care, at least you could think of
someone else—I don’t want my friends seeing him and thinking we have nerds in
Joe stepped into the room he shared with Benny, and when the
two dark heads swung in his direction, he said, “That’s because your friends
are all dorks,
Mar Tee’s opened her mouth, her face reddened, then without
another word she shoved violently past him and marched to her room. Knowing
she’d have loved to stay and fight it out, Joe grinned. It was her own fault
she’d sworn before the whole family a few weeks ago that on her fourteenth
birthday she was to be called Mar Tee, and nothing but Mar Tee, and if anyone
dared to address her as Martha, she would not speak to them.
With Mar Tee gone, Benny sank onto the bottom bunk, trying
to swallow sobs. Joe said nothing, first surveying the room, which looked like
a cyclone had hit it. Both beds had been stripped, and the sheets and blankets
lay in a tangle on the floor under a scattering of heavy toys. But nothing that
really mattered—all his drawings of imaginary creatures, his space ship
designs—on the walls and on the desk had been touched.
“What was it, a tent?” Joe asked.
Benny sucked in a ragged break and nodded hopefully. “I
d-didn’t think you’d be mad, not about the sheets,” he said. “Me’n Jordan were
making a hideout, with rooms and everything. But we didn’t mess with your good
stuff. And it was cool, till she came in. She said yukky stuff at Jordan—”
“I heard. Tell ya what, Ben, if you don’t stop being such a
wimp around Mar Tee she’s always going to pick on you.”
Benny sniffed again, then said, “What can I do? She came in
to get one of your DVDs, and screamed because she couldn’t get to the desk, and
said she’d tell Mom.”
“Listen, Ben, it’s your room. And mine. Not hers. She’s got
her own room now—”
“Yeah, and it’s not fair to you,” Benny said, looking
belligerent. “It was supposed to be yours.”
“You said it,” Joe muttered, remembering the horrible scenes
Mar Tee had thrown in order to get the old study for herself, once Dad’s new
study had been built over the garage. He bit back the bitter comment he was
about to make, knowing Benny would repeat it next time he had a fight with Mar
Tee—and Joe knew he’d be the one to get into trouble. “Anyway, you can throw
her out if she barges in uninvited. There’s nothing in here she needs to see,
and she’s not welcome. Got it?”
Benny nodded violently.
“Then let’s get the blankets and stuff put back before Dad
comes home, so she can’t snitch. I’ll ask Mom if you can borrow the spare
blankets to make your tent. Okay?”
Benny brightened up at that, and started struggling with the
mess of sheets and blankets on the floor. Joe ended up having to help him
restore the room to order. Halfway through the job Benny’s friend Jordan
appeared, peeking timidly around the door to see if Mar Tee was still lurking
Jordan was also eight, a skinny, pale kid with orange hair
and buck teeth as well as those thick glasses that made his watery blue eyes
look like marbles swimming in cloudy water.
“Hi, Jordan,” Joe said. “C’mon in. You can give us a hand.”
Jordan was quite ready to help. The two small boys were soon
chattering away, punctuating their talk with squeaks and beeps—being robots or
aliens, Joe realized finally. He looked away, hoping they wouldn’t see him
When the room was once again restored to order, the little
boys went down to watch TV, and Joe was left alone at last. He raced through
his homework, enjoying the feeling of expectation that the library books gave
him. Two of them he’d already read—a couple of science fiction ones he’d really
enjoyed—and then there was that new one,