This is a Book Too is HERE

Mel and I have started posting chapters of This is a Book Too–the sequel to our crazy, genre-less blog novel This is a Book from last year–and we are SO PSYCHED to be back in the game.

Like last time, we’ll be posting two chapters weekly (pending those petty real life distractions like “exams” and “work” and “sleeping”). Mel’s chapters, from pirate-ghost-zombie Rose’s perspective, will go up on Sundays. My chapters, from on-the-run assassin Mary’s perspective, will go up on Fridays (which means that–that’s right–the very first Mary chapter will be going up TOMORROW, Friday, January 24th, 2014).

You can read This is a Book Too (and its predecessor) on the official This is a Book series blog at thisisabookthebook.wordpress.com

Let the adventures, cliffhangers, and plot twists begin!

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“The End Where I Begin, Chapter Seven”)

IT. IS. SO. COLD.

Yesterday, with windchill, it was -15 out while I walked to class. If that doesn’t give you a solid idea of how cold it is in Michigan right now, remember that 32 degrees Fahrenheit is freezing. So it was 47 degrees below freezing. 47 degrees ABOVE freezing puts the temperature at 79. 32 and 79 are two very different temperatures. Therefore: -15 is not just freezing, but SO. SO. SO. SO. COLD. OHMYGOSHCOLD. (If my brain ever unfreezes, I’m transferring to somewhere warm. Like the University of Hawaii.)

But anyway, outside of that and the continuing mess with Amazon, I’m doing well. I went home over the weekend, at which point I got to annoy Sammy for four days straight (yay long weekends!) and see lots of movies (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a new fave) and work a ton on editing stuff, both for my critique partners and myself (I edited approximately 450 pages in three days–besides my brain being frozen, it is now also mush).

The winning option for this week’s Wordy Wednesday is “NaNoWriMo excerpt,” so here’s Chapter Seven from The End Where I Begin. 🙂

As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.

Read previous chapters:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

**********

Chapter Seven

“I told you she was crazy.” I don’t know why I feel the need to say the words, but I do. I want him to believe that Ramsey is the one who is lying, not me.

Why would Ramsey lie about something like that? The Identibands prove that we’ve known each other almost our entire lives. Saying it isn’t true doesn’t make the fact go away, as much as, believe me, I would like it to as well.

“I did not deny your assertion.” Dr. O’Brien’s shoulders are rigid and he still won’t meet my eye. I stare at him. Sweat glistens above his eyebrows. “We just needed to verify that you and Miss Carp were indeed once friends, in order to assure that the Identibands had not glitched. As you know, Miss Dylan, the system is not yet perfect. We are still working daily to improve it.”

“Of course.” I nod. The edge of the table bites into my palms, but I don’t dare unwrap my fingers from around it. They feel like they’re the only things anchoring me to the thin sheet of steel, to the Earth.

“Our records collected from the Identibands of the other students at New Capital High show that a majority of the students in all four years knew ahead of the Recruitment Assembly that Miss Carp wanted to attack you, as they all spoke of it with their classmates throughout the morning, beginning at approximately 0745. Do you know whether this was simply a rumor, or a verifiable threat?”

I hold back a laugh. “Well evidently it was a threat, seeing as she went through with it.”

Dr. O’Brien’s eyes flit up from the tablet then back down again—a quick, agitated movement that says he is not amused. “Do you know why Miss Carp chose the Recruitment Assembly—such an important day—to target you?”

“She likes to make her attacks as public as possible. The first time she went after me, back in May, we were standing outside New Capital High with half the student body standing around us as we waited to be let inside for morning classes.”

I remember the morning perfectly. I hadn’t seen her since school the day before, when we parted at the subway station around the block from NCH. She wished me luck with my chemistry homework and I reminded her we had an Español quiz in the morning. I took the steps down to the subway, to take the train out to the suburbs, and she began the walk to Portsmouth. It had already been over a year since my family moved to Riverhorn, but we still ate lunch together every day and I stayed at her house every Friday night to help care for her two little sisters while her parents pulled the night shift.

That morning, though, Ramsey looked different from how she did the night before. Her tawny hair was loose and unbrushed around her shoulders, and dark bags hung beneath her eyes. She looked at everyone around us like she thought they might attack her, all the students in their matching navy blue pants and button-down shirts.

Our conversation was peculiar. She kept asking me what was wrong, and grew angrier and angrier when I didn’t know what she was talking about. Then she grabbed my wrist, I yanked it away, and we haven’t spoken since.

I wonder how Ramsey is now, locked up somewhere in this building. I wonder if she’s scared or cross or if she just doesn’t even care anymore or—

—No, I will not be sympathetic towards the Ram. She doesn’t deserve it.

I concentrate on Dr. O’Brien’s tablet as I speak. “So, a couple weeks after her first confrontation with me, she attacked Brad Jennings during the county tennis match—Ramsey and I used to play doubles together, but then after our argument she switched to singles. Brad didn’t provoke her in any way, but she threw a tennis racket so hard at his stomach he had to forfeit the match because he was throwing up so much. Students still make fun of him for it. She always chooses as public a location as possible, in order to better humiliate her victim.”

“Interesting.” Dr. O’Brien taps away at his tablet.

I glance round the office for a clock, but don’t find one. I’m about to ask if I could have the time, or at least know how much longer he’ll need me, when he catches me in a stare and holds my gaze. My fingers tighten around the table.

A single drop of sweat trails its way down the side of his face, although as far as I can tell his office is actually unnaturally cool, not warm. Another one of the expenses the Clinic can afford that the rest of us cannot is to control their temperature down to a tenth of a degree, so the temperature in here is his decision, and it’s definitely cooler than what I’m used to. I don’t know how he’s hot enough to sweat.

He dabs away the drop with the edge of his lab coat sleeve. “Now, we must discuss what occurred directly before Miss Carp’s attack yesterday.”

“Okay.”

“We invited you to join the Clinic.”

I wait a second for him to go on, but he doesn’t. He raises his eyebrows at me and I blink. His lips are pressed firmly together. Another second passes. I open my mouth. “Um. Yes?”

He leans towards me as another drop of sweat snakes down his cheek. It slips from his chin and drops to his knee. He braces his elbows on either side of the tablet on his lap. “Do you know why, Miss Dylan?”

I shrug for what feels like the hundredth time. One side of my mouth lifts almost of its own accord. “I guess because you decided I would be a good candidate?”

“Now is not the time to be smart with me.”

My lips fall back in a frown. “I’m sorry. I was not trying to be.” I stare at my lap. “I just don’t understand why you’re asking me this.”

“Of course.” His tone is kind, but his eyes are hard and unblinking. “Let me explain: While we have surely been monitoring you since you were small because we thought you could become a beneficial addition to the Clinic someday, we had a very particular reason for choosing to recruit you one year early. You are not meant to be a traditional recruit.” A flash from my Identiband catches my eye, but I ignore it this time. I keep my attention on Dr. O’Brien. “You see, Miss Dylan, the Fifth Reality recently encountered—well, I guess you could call it a case of glitching.”

“Like you were worried about occurring in Ramsey and my Identibands?”

He flinches but does not lean back. “In a way… yes.”

“Wait.” My grip on the table tightens until my fingers are numb from loss of blood. “How can a reality glitch? We’re real, we’re here. The Quantum is a natural phenomenon. It’s not like we’re a piece of technology that can break.”

Now he does lean back in his swivel chair. He pinches his eyes closed, takes a deep breath, and holds himself in that position. It looks painful.

I raise an eyebrow. “Doctor O’Brien?”

He exhales, then inhales again. He opens his eyes and some of the pain leaves his expression. “Let me begin to explain by asking you a question. Tell me, Miss Dylan, when did Miss Carp begin acting strangely?”

“About four months ago. In May. The day she bruised my wrist.”

“May 16th, then.” Dr. O’Brien nods to himself. My Identiband is pinching my wrist again, but I don’t want to take my attention off the conversation to shift it. “Miss Dylan, explain how the Quantum works to me.”

“You want me to explain the Quantum?” I stare at him. “The Quantum is the Quantum. It’s everything. The all-encompassing term for every version of the universe, held together by the Thread of Reality.”

“Yes, yes, very good. But how does it work?”

“I don’t—”

“Would it help to draw it?”

I open my mouth, close it, then open it again. “I guess?”

“Very well, give me just a moment.” He places the tablet back on his desk and walks to a cabinet with a wooden door. While he rifles through it, I uncurl my fingers from the steel table and place my hands in my lap. Fiery lines with paler skin on either side of them separate my palms in half. My knuckles are nearly white.

My jaw aches. I don’t want to know what color that is.

Dr. O’Brien slips a crumpled, blank sheet of paper out from under a stack of books and passes it to me, along with a book to write on. He pulls a pen from a cup on the counter.

“Now, Miss Dylan.” He stands beside me and taps a practiced finger against the paper. “Explain to me how the Quantum works.”

I stare at the blank paper, nothing but a matching blankness in my mind. I uncap the pen and place the tip against the sheet. My Identiband flashes—holds the strange color for a good half a second this time—and I blink, shake my head.

I open my eyes and the color is gone. The lights are all a perfect, bright green. Out the corner of my eye, Dr. O’Brien doesn’t appear to have noticed a thing.

I look back to the paper and draw a circle. “This is us. The Fifth Reality.”

“Good, good. Go on.” Dr. O’Brien folds his hands behind his back and smiles just barely.

“We are just one reality within the Quantum. The Quantum is large; constantly expanding. Lately we’ve been adding one new reality a year. Our existence is spread throughout each reality, so that while each of us exists in the Fifth Reality, another version of us also exists in the Fourth and the Sixth and all the rest. The realities all exist linearly—in a straight line. So the effects of what happens in the reality here,” I draw a circle on the paper to the left of the one that represents us, then an arrow pointing to ours, “can affect what happens here. And what happens here, to us, can affect the reality after ours.” I draw a circle and another arrow to the right.

“That is correct, Miss Dylan.”

I look up, pen still pressed to the sheet. “Is that enough, or would you like me to go into more detail?”

Dr. O’Brien steps back to his chair and sits. He passes the back of a hand over his forehead—more sweat. “That is plenty. I only had to make sure that you understood the basics of the Quantum in order to ensure that you will understand the severity of what I am about to tell you next.”

I swallow. “Yes?”

“You are aware of the effects when a new reality comes to existence. Certain members of our society experience dizziness, nausea, or disorientation as another version of them is born. It was worse when our reality was younger, and thus the new realities were held closer to us by the Thread of Reality. However, as you have so aptly mentioned, this is not the only time one reality will affect the others.”

He holds out his hand for the paper and I slip off the edge of the table. I hand it to him and hover beside him as he stabs one finger onto the sheet—the circle that represents the Fourth Reality, the one before ours.

“What happens in this reality can affect what happens in this one.” His finger follows the arrow to the Fifth Reality.

A plummeting feeling free falls through my stomach. I do not think I will like where this goes.

“On May 16th, Miss Ramsey Carp woke up suddenly much different from the person she was the night before.”

Oh my goodness.

“Somehow, something major has happened in the reality before ours in the Quantum. And because of that, your friend’s personality has overlapped with that of the Ramsey Carp from that reality. Thus, Miss Carp was correct, from her personal viewpoint, in telling us that she had never spoken to you before last May. Memories from the Fourth Reality Miss Carp easily could have muddled her memories of this reality when they crossed over—and it’s possible the Fourth Reality versions of the two of you have never even met, yet alone spent time together as the two of you in this reality have.

“As far as Miss Carp remembers, it’s possible she truly does not know you at all.”

**********

75Here’s looking at you, weather.

I feel like I haven’t asked in a while, so, Reader Dearest, how are you doing? Got any good classes? Interesting stories to share? I’m all ears.

Be on the watch for new chapters of This is a Book Too going up on the official This is a Book series blog here.

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“Peter Pan”)

You know, I always have so much I want to tell you, and then the instant I open a new blog post I forget and my brain just goes like, “Blahhh… words… wasn’t there something I was supposed to remember to say… blahhhhh blah blah blah blah… on well… blah… give me a caramel apple… whooo.”

Yeah, I’m blanking pretty hardcore at the moment.

But what I do remember: It’s Wednesday, so this is a Wordy Wednesday post. And this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a song I wrote around the time I graduated high school. I got really nostalgic and sappy my final semester, and this song basically describes what I felt like when I met some of the theatre kids from the class that would be freshmen the year after I graduated (aka: REALLY sappy). Looking at them was like looking at myself four years earlier, and it was the weirdest, most Twilight Zone-ish feeling I’ve ever experienced.

**********

[C, G, Em, D]

VERSE1

Hey there, little girl, with the braces on your smile

You’re so lucky, don’t you know, you get to be here for a while

I remember you calling my name, like I was a celebrity

Well, being a senior, graduating, isn’t all it cracked up to be

I’ve seen that look on your face before

Like you are waiting for someone to open the door

And you’re scared of being lost, and you’re scared of being alone

But you’re happy now, ’cause you’re finding a new home

CHORUS

Right now you’re at the beginning,

but the pages turn pretty fast

and someday you’ll have to let go

because today’ll be in the past

And I know it sucks, and I know it’s mean

And I know you feel stuck in between

But just remember as much of everything

as you can. Then fall in love with Peter Pan.

VERSE2

Hey there, little girl, just happy to fit in

Don’t forget who you want to be, for the sake of pleasing him

And just ’cause it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s always right

Don’t worry, not for now, it’s not goodbye at closing night

I’ve seen that look in your eyes before

I’ve said the words that you can’t ignore

And I’d give anything, to be in your shoes

You don’t know what you have, until it’s something you will lose

[Repeat CHORUS]

BRIDGE

Those four years are going go by faster than you think

One second you’re making friends, then it’s all gone in a blink

And you’ll cling to the memories, the bad ones and the good

Thinking of all the things you’d relive, wouldn’t change them if I could

[Repeat CHORUS]

**********

59

 

 

~Julia

Oh, PS. I just remembered one of the things I was supposed to say: THIS IS A BOOK has a new home–it’s very own website! And Mel and I are holding a contest to draw our logo (a squish)! Make sure to check it out and enter your drawing: http://thisisabookthebook.wordpress.com/

This Is a Book: Chapter Twenty Six

… And so we come to the final installment of This Is a Book. Never fear, though! This Is a Book Too, the sequel to this hideously beautiful, mind-blowing adventure will be coming soon to a blog near you. How soon? SOON. (Basically, Mel and I are taking the rest of the summer off from TIAB-related things in order to focus on writing our personal projects. And by “personal projects,” I mean “actual legit novels.”)

So sit tight, enjoy the final chapter of This Is a Book, and all your favorite characters will see you again in just a couple of months!

Don’t know what This Is a Book is? Follow this link.

Need to catch up on previous chapters? Follow this link.

**********

Chapter Twenty Six: Catching Fire

            “So wait, let me get this straight,” I say. “First of all, that King dude that the super-mouse and I just saved and brought down here was not actually the King?”

            “Oh no,” says Pixie Stick. “That was The King. It was just another The King. That was Pixie Elvis.”

            “And we have to solve some dumb riddle presented to us by a frog in order to find the proper The King?”

            “Not a frog, stupid.” Pixie Stick crosses his arms like I’ve exasperated him with this. “Frogg. It’s a thing you call a person.”

            “Oh, like a name?” I snap. Rose has to physically hold me back to keep me from strangling him, which is more than a little weird after her being a freaking ghost the entire time I’ve known her. “I don’t even care anymore,” I say. “I. Just. Don’t. Even. Care. Any. More.”

            “As much as I’d like to agree with you,” says Rose, shoving me back a couple feet and staring over my shoulder, “I think you should probably try caring long enough to get us out of here.”

            Her voice shakes, and I turn whiplash-fast to see what she’s looking at behind me. There’s something small coming towards us. It glides through the darkness with yellow eyes and glittering scales that reflect the moonlight that streams through the windows, a fluffy brown tail swishingalong in the breeze behind it.

            “What the heck is that,” I say, staring.

            “A squish,” Rose whispers. “They are the creatures that made me like a zombie. Her hand shakes on my arm. So quiet I can barely hear her, she says, “Run.”

            We do.

            We sprint down the hall, and around the corner, searching desperately for the exit. My legs ache and my lungs burn, and for the first time in a long time, I really consider starting to eat something other than ice cream for dinner every night.

            No matter how quickly we go, though, the stupid little squish comes faster, its high-pitched cackle chasing us up the halls.

            “Pixie Stick!” I gasp. “You can do magic-y things!Save us! I’m too alive to die!”

            “But it is not yet time to leave!” Pixie Stick replies as he flutters along beside me, his wings beating as fast as they can carry him.

            “What do you mean it’s not yet time to leave?!”

            “You must first learn the lessons you came to learn,” he tells me in a chiding voice. “You uglies are always so impatient to reach the end of the story. You must first learn the lessons you came to learn.”

            “Rose.” I spot her struggling to keep up out the corner of my eye. Every few steps she trips over her gown, or puts her foot down wrong, or something else stupid. She looks like a giraffe trying to learn how to salsa. “What in the world is wrong with you?”

            “I haven’t had to deal with human restraints in over a hundred years, Mary!” she snaps. “It takes a while to get used to these things!”

            “Great,” I mutter between gasps for breath. “It’s the one who is already dead who’s slowing us down.”

            Pixie Stick slaps me across the face. “The lessons!” he cries, his voice going so high-pitched dolphins could hear it. “You must learn the lessons!”

            “Yeah, and what are those?” On the last word, my junk food-fueled legs finally give out beneath me, and I collapse to the marble floor. Rose takes only another few steps before she realizes I’m lost and gives up as well, falling to the floor with a bang that makes my own butt throb in sympathy.

            I am a squish, comes a squeaky, devious little voice from directly behind us. I must speak with you humans.

            “Um, can I get a rain check on that? I’m feeling kind of under the weather right now…” I flop back and let myself sprawl on the floor. The cool marble feels good on my sweaty body. I open my eyes just long enough to make sure my skirt is covering the necessities, and then let them drift closed again. “I give up,” I groan. “I give up on all this crap. Why can’t anyone just leave me alone? All I ever wanted was the stop the bloody alien invasion, and now I’ve got a freaky flying squirrel-thing coming after me!”

            “It’s a squirrel-fish, actually,” Rose corrects me. “A squish.”

            “Quite frankly, my dear, I don’t give a freaky flying squirrel-thing.”

Yes, I am a squish, the squish agrees with Rose. It sounds pleased. You are humans. I must speak with you humans.

“Yeah, yeah, fine,” I groan. “Just get it over quickly so I can take a nap.”

“You do realize once you’ve been infected by the virus, you cannot sleep anymore, right?” Rose asks.

“Crap. Let me take a nap first, so I can deal with these bags under my eyes—” I kneed at my face “—then you can turn me into a zombie-ghost-thing.”

I do not want to make you human dead, says the little beast. It’s closer now, so close I could reach out and strangle it if I just had access to a caffeinated drink. I want to warn you of what is to come.

“Yeah, and what’s that?” Then something metaphorically hits me. “Oh goodness. The lessons. The flying squirrel-fish is going to teach us the lessons.”

I am a squish, it says. It seems confused by the fact that I won’t call it that. I am what you want. You are a human-killer. I am what you humans call an aye-lion. You want to be aye-lion-killer.

“Oh, sweet cookies and cream,” I say. “The squirrel-fish is an alien. The dumb, blasted, stupid, idiot, horrible, obnoxious, bleeding, terrible aliens are actually real.”

Yes I am real, the squish says. Of course I am real. Are you real, human?

“Now it’s trying to play Inception mind-games with me. I do give up, I really do. Can this mess just be done and over with already?”

I must warn you of what is to come, the squish says, ignoring me. I can feel it staring at me with its beady little eyes. More squish are to come. More squish are to take over your world.

“Golly gee, didn’t see that one coming.”

The squish like fairness. The squish like rightness. This is your warning.

“Great. The aliens trying to destroy us might just be better people than we are.” I throw a hand over my face. “I’m so done with this!”

            There’s the scuffle of shoes against the floor as Rose moves, shifting to face the squish. I peek out of one eye to watch. She’s getting to her feet, slowly but surely. “You believe in being fair?” she asks the squish.

            I am a squish. Squish believe in fairness. Squish believe in rightness.

            “What was fair in turning me into a zombie-ghost? In killing off the entire crew of my father’s ship?”

He made a deal. They made a deal. They broke a promise to the squish.

            “Oh grand,” I mutter.

            “Shut it, Mary!” Rose snaps.

I receive a kick in the foot and let out a half-hearted, “Ow.”

“What deal did my father make with you that gave you permission to destroy not only our lives, but our ability to die normally as well?”

I have never heard Rose so angsty before in my life—and believe me, zombie-ghost-pirate-things get pretty darn angsty a lot of the time. Interested in what’s going on, I force my eyes open and drag myself into a sitting position. Rose stands a couple feet away, the squish flapping its flying-squirrel skin-fold-wing-things in order to stay level with her eyes.

“Rose, are you crying?”

Shut it, Mary!”

You were not part of the deal. You were not supposed to die. You are supposed to be not-dead, human.

“Fabulous.” It takes me an instant to realize both Rose and I have said it.

Find your heart, and you will be not-dead, the squish says. The closer to your heart you are, the more not-dead you are. I think I can hear a smile in its voice. Not-dead, not-dead, you will be not-dead.

            “Yeah, and where is her heart?” I ask. Rose is in too much shock to ask the question herself.

            It was here, says the squish. Now it is not-here. Now it is there.

            “So it’s not in Norland, the place ‘neither here nor there.’ And it’s not in Sebastian’s lovely little summer home castle here.” I tick them off on my fingers. “That leaves the only other reality I know of, which is Earth. Is the heart on Earth, fish-squirrel? Firrel?”

            I am a squish. The squish is confused.

            “Where’s her heart?” I ask.

            But before the squish can answer, Pixie Stick pops up beside me and, with a grin, says, “You have learned the lessons you came to learn!” The castle and squish begin to fade from around us. “You may go home now! To London!”

            “You have got to be kidding me,” I growl. “Right when we were actually going to learn something useful—you decide now that we’ve heard enough and it’s time to leave? And London is not my home! I’m NOT. BRITISH!”

            I turn to wrap my fingers around his scrawny neck when suddenly—poof—Pixie Stick is gone. Instead, Rose and I stand in the middle of the hallway outside Booker Smith’s office. Rose collapses to the floor, struggling against the gravity.

            “Yeah, I’d definitely say your heart is somewhere on Earth, then, if you’re still having these real-person issues,” I say, staring down at her. Then it hits me:“Ohmygosh, Randy! We need to get into contact with PWNBEIBER, warn them about the squishes—”

            I fling open Book-man’s door and step into the office. Both Randy and Book-man jump, spinning to face me. They were staring at the spot I was standing before I disappeared.

            “What happened to you?” Randy yelps. His teeth chatter out of fear.

            “Ugh, seriously, Randy. You need to stop flipping out so easily. I’ve met Chihuahuas who were braver than you.” I step further into the office, check back around the corner to make sure Rose hasn’t for-real died on my or anything, and then turn back to the guys. “We called you,” I say, “from Ameri—” I stop. “Except that wasn’t actually real. That was in the alternate dimension or whatever. How long have we been away?”

            “Been away?” says Book-man, stepping out from where he’d taken cover from me behind his desk. “You haven’t been away at all. You just disappeared a second ago. And then you walked through the door. Did you not just transport out into the hallway?”

            “What? No.” My head begins to ache, my legs grow heavy, at the realization. “We were gone for days. In another dimension or something. But we finally escaped, and now we’re back, and—” A muscle spasms in my right eye. “We came back before we left. Time travel. Time travel just happened. What. Why. How.”

            Rose steps into the room. “Okay, I think I’ve got this gravity thing figured—”

            Randy jumps backward. “Whoa, who are you?!”

            “You can see me?” Rose’s face pales and she looks like she just might fall over again.

            “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Randy backs up a step, trips, and falls on the floor. He scooches back until his back is against the far wall, his fingers grasping at the floorboards, his skin even paler than hers. “You’re Rose? I can see Rose? Rose exists?”

            “Indeed.” I glare. “You seriously didn’t believe me all that time? Even when Book-man could see her? You really are a lousy excuse for a sidekick, Randy.”

            Finally recovering what little of his dignity still remains, although that’s all a matter of opinion, he gulps and says, “You’re prettier than Mary described, Rose.”

            “Oh goodness.” I walk over and slip my hand into his, pulling him back to his feet. “She’s still dead, you idiot. Don’t go getting any ideas about hooking up with her.” He towers over me, which feels strange after spending so much time around Pixie Stick. “We don’t know exactly what happened—why she’s visible now and has to deal with gravity and all that—but she’s still very much dead. We need to get her heart back.”

            “You’re missing your heart?” Randy stares at her over my head. He gulps again.

            “Pretty much,” says Rose. She speaks quieter now, more subdued since she knows people can hear her. More proper. She stands up straighter to say, “The aliens you have all been after? They are called squishes. They’re the ones who did this to me, to my father, to his crew.” Her tone is softer but angrier as she spits, “To Sebastian.”

            “The aliens are real?” Randy asks. He somehow sounds even more incredulous about this than Rose.

            “Of course they’re real, you dork!” I swat him across the arm. “But that’s not even the most pressing thing right now. We’ve gotta figure out about this Frogg fellow, and—”

            Book-man interrupts me. “Frogg? As in Lewis James Frogg?”

            “Um, I guess? Ya know him?”

            “Not personally, no. But I’ve been researching on him. I thought he might be involved in the zombie-business.” Book-man pulls out a drawer and begins flipping through the files inside. “It seems the boy has developed certain, uh—shall I say abnormalities as of late.”

            “‘Abnormalities’ how, exactly?” asks Rose. She shifts her weight from one foot to the other, then leans back against the wall. She lets a small smile flit across her lips. Randy stares, and I kick him in the knee.

            “Focus, you hormone-ridden teenager.” I turn back to Book-man. “What can you tell us about Frogg?”

            “Not much,” he tells us. “The boy is very secretive.

“However,” he smiles, “I do know his location.”

THE END… of Book 1.

**********

And now, for real, I swear this is my last blog post before I leave.

I love you, and thank you to the super amazing guest bloggers who’ll be making appearances over the course of the next couple of weeks, and I will talk to you the instant I’m back! Happy Father’s Day, and happy summer, and I love you, I love you, I love you! (Yeah, it’s the end of a novel. I’m getting a bit gushy.)

Byeee!

~Julia

This Is a Book: Chapter Twenty Four

Oh gosh, sorry this chapter’s so late, as usual. We finally get back on schedule, and then I throw us off again. But this chapter’s way longer than the usual Mary parts, so hey! That makes up for the delay at least a little bit, right? Right. (I hope.)

Watch out for two of our winners from the character creation contest, making appearances in this chapter!

Don’t know what This Is a Book is? Follow this link.

Need to catch up on previous chapters? Follow this link.

**********

Chapter Twenty Four: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

“Telling our story, love?” Sebastian asks. We whirl to face the direction his voice comes from. He rests against the bottom of a rusted iron ladder that he’s lowered through the hole in the ceiling of ice, one foot propped against the bottom rung and his arms folded across his skinny chest. His pure white eyes stare in Rose’s direction, whether drawn by her voice or thoughts, I don’t know.

I imagine sawing Sebastian in half like a magician would his assistant, only minus the magic part. The little bit of light that seeps from the hole glints off his eyes, proving they’ve moved to face me. So he’s listening to thoughts, not what we’re saying out loud.

“Or both, of course,” he says, tapping his chin like he’s thinking through the matter. “You don’t truly think I am so low of a creature I can’t listen both with my ears and my mind at the same time, do you?”

“No, not at all,” I say as, in great detail, I imagine vomiting down his shirt. Thevampire stiffens. He first rests back against the ladder, then leans towards me.

“Do you have a problem with me, Mary Hart?”

“Oh, what would ever make you believe that?” I ask. “No, I’m totally grateful to the zombie dude who imprisoned me in his copycat Narnia castle just for associating with his ex-fiancé, you creep.” Someone snorts, but I don’t recognize the sound, so it’s not Rose or Pixie Stick. “Who just did that?” I squint through the darkness at the other cells. I’d thought they were empty until now. Nobody responds.

Sebastian clears his throat, and I whip back to face him.

“Are you insinuating that you do not find my dungeons unique enough to satisfy your fancy?” he asks with a weary pout.

Of course!” I snap. “Haven’t you seen the first Chronicles of Narnia movie? This is a total rip-off of the White Witch’s dungeons. I’m just waiting for the talking faun to appear.”

“What is a talking faun?” asks Pixie Stick from beside me, his squeaky little voice shaking only a smidgen out of fear. I’m surprised he’s acting so brave around the Dark Lord of Copycat Castles.

“It’s like this weird Roman half-man, half-animal thi—you know what, how about we just watch the movie when we get back to London, eh? It’s really cute. Lots of annoying magical creatures like you. You’ll feel right at home,” I tell him.

“Is Elvis in it?” he asks, clasping his little hands before him in earnest. “I love Elvis. Elvis is my idol. I want to be Elvis someday.”

“That’s it. My half a second of camaraderie with you is over.” I shove him into the corner of the cell and turn back to Sebastian. I raise one eyebrow. “So, Copycat Castle Dude. Can we get back to the story? As our little Rosie here can assure you, I have met goldfish with longer attention spans than mine. Chop, chop. Let’s get on with this thing.”

“After you just insulted my home decorating, you wish for me to allow this tale to continue?” His face screws up in an expression of melodramatic offendedness, but his tone is bland and uninterested.

“Uh, yeah,” I say. “How else are we supposed to pass the time in your little shop of horrors down here.” I direct a very pointed gaze in the direction of the anonymous snort from earlier, but there’s not a peep from the other cells. “Ugh, fine, whoever you are. Just let me sit here and babble on and on about my life, and don’t even bother doing the polite thing by introducing yourself!”

There’s another snort, this time followed by a cough.

“I can hear you, you know!”

“Mary, let it go,” Rose snaps. She’s sulking against the outer wall of her cell, as far from Sebastian as she can get. It’s difficult to see her through the gloom.

“Fine,” I say, sitting down right where I am and crossing my arms. “Then talk.”

“The second wave of the disease didn’t manifest until Sebastian and I were close enough to touch one another. While I stood beside my father’s decimated corpse, Sebastian approached me with a fever-light in his eyes.

“‘What are you doing here?’ I remember asking him.

“He responded, ‘Searching—’” Rose begins to say the next line, but Sebastian cuts her off with one piercing stare.

“‘Searching for my bride, of course,’” he says in a listless drone. “‘Why did you run, my dear, fragile flower?’”

It’s like the two of them are hypnotized, going through the paces of the story.

“Then,” says Sebastian, lifting his hand, “I reached out to place my hand on your shoulder, Rose—”

“—I opened my mouth to respond, but I saw him reaching for me, and I flinched back—” She presses herself as firmly against the wall as she can. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I become aware of the fact that Rose, who has always been able to float through any obstacle that should come in her path, cannot push herself through that dungeon wall to escape.

“—and the moment I was close enough to touch her,” Sebastian says, his hand falling back to his side, “the virus took.”

“So it takes being close enough to another human to touch them for the disease to affect you?” I say. They should applaud me for having such good analyzing skills, but neither Rose nor Sebastian seems to be aware of my presence anymore. “Guys,” I say. I slap my hands against the bars of my ice cell, but the ghosties don’t break out of the trance. “Guys!”

“Oh dear,” says the pixie. “I do believe they are lost in the memory.”

“Lost in the memory,” I say. “What. In. Elvis’s. Horrifying. Name. Is. That. Supposed. To. Mean.”

“Nothing too terrible,” he assures me. “Just that they will be stuck reliving the night they turned into ugly zombie-ghosts until a Powerful One intervenes.”

“A powerful one. What the heck is a freaking ‘Powerful One,’ Candy Man?”

“Candy Man?” He stares up at me with his huge brown eyes.

“You’re a pixie. Like the Pixy Stix candy.” I throw my arms up in exasperation. “Gosh, can you just get on to answering my question, you weirdo? We’ve gotta wake Rose up so we can get out of here! And defeat Sebastian! And stop the alien invasion! And get back to London so I can return to my daily pastime of kicking Randy’s butt until the U.S. government lets me go home!”

“A Powerful One is a creature like Sebastian,” the pixie tells me without any hint of having been insulted by his candy nickname. Twerpy little freak.

I glare. Between gritted teeth, I say, “So you want me to somehow go find another vampire-zombie-thing and just hope he’ll choose to help us instead of treating me like a giant bottle of grape juice? Huh?”

“No, no, of course not!” Pixie Stick claps his hands together.

What then?!”

“Simply locate the King! He is a Powerful One as well, and he is trapped somewhere in this castle!”

“You are far too excited about this,” I say. “You do realize I am trapped in this cell with you right now, right? What, are you just going to magically beam me—” Before I can finish my sentence, I’m standing on the other side of the bars, the pixie giggling uncontrollably behind me, still in the cell. I spin. “You could have let me out at any given point in time? You’ve been choosing to make me stay in there with you?”

“You never asked to leave before.” He shrugs.

A snort comes from my right, this time followed by an entire series of hacking coughs.

“Who’s there?!” I shout. “Are you the King?”

The voice is deep yet feminine, with a distinctive rasp that sounds almost like the buzz of a wasp. “I wish. If I were, I could get myself out of here.”

“Who are you, then?” I ask. “Medusa?”

“I wish. Then I could turn people to stone when they get annoying, which would give me far less indigestion.” The monster coughs again.

“Tell me your name, or I’m leaving you here to rot when I heroically manage to free all of us in a second,” I say as I slowly approach the cell.

The light in the dungeons has faded even more as night approaches, but I can still just barely make out the hulking shape of the creature.

“What are you, a giant guinea pig?” I hide the laughter in my sleeve.

“No,” she says, and the rodent-shaped monster pulls herself upward so that she stands on her hind feet. She towards over me, with flaming red fur-hair-stuff and the tail of a dolphin. “I am Kra, the almighty! The destroyer of worlds!”

“Yeah?” I cross my arms and stare up at her beady-eyed face. “And what world have you destroyed?”

“Atlantis.”

I take a step back. “The resort?”

“No, you buffoon. The original Atlantis. The real one. The lost city one.”

I swallow hard. “Well, I guess that qualifies you as a full-out, real deal destroyer of worlds. Congrats.” I take another few steps away. “Well, it was… uh… niiice to meet you, but I’ve got a world to save, now, so…”

And I turn and sprint in the opposite direction.

“I will eat you alive when I get out of here, you baboon! Alive, I tell you, alive! I will skin you! I will bake you! I will marinate you in banana pudding!”

I reach the ladder, shove Sebastian’s creepy vampiric body out of the way, and climb for the light. Behind me, Pixie Stick cheers, while Kra continues to call me monkey-names and threaten different ways of cooking my body.

On the floor above the dungeons, the ice ends, giving way instead to black marble columns and winding halls.

“Oh,” I say, “now this is going to be fun.”

An hour later, and I’ve just ducked into an alcove for the hundred and tenth time to avoid detection by one of Sebastian’s ghost cronies. I’ve checked the first three levels of the castle for the King, with no such luck, and I’m really beginning to wish this place came equipped with an elevator and a King-tracking GPS system.

I mean, really, is that so much to ask for?

Evidently so.

The ghost’s heavy presence—like a glass of whole milk to the face—fades away, and I slip out from the alcove. I creep towards the stairs.

“Okay, Mary,” I whisper to myself. “You can do this. You can locate the King and save Rose, no problem. This is not a big deal. You do way more intense things like this all the time. I can’t think of any of them off the top of my head, but you do. You’re fine. You can do this, you can do this, you can—”

A ghost soldier comes floating down from the top of the spiral staircase, and there’s nowhere for me to hide.

Maybe if you stay really still he won’t notice you, I think to myself. Like that T-Rex in Jurassic Park.

“Hey!” the ghost shouts. “What are you doing out of the dungeons?!”

Yeah. No such luck.

I’m preparing to make a run for it when another voice pipes up, Leave the human child alone, you fiend!

I look around for the source of my rescuer, but find none. Then a mouse darts out of a thick crack at the base of the marble wall, and the ghost screams. He floats through the nearest wall as quickly as his transparent white behind will take him and I fall back on my butt, sliding down a few steps before I can catch myself.

“What the Bieber, there’s a mouse in this house?” I yelp.

Yes, says the voice, and you would do well to learn how to hold your tongue.

“Oh my gosh. You’re a talking mouse.” Then it hits me. “Wait, I’m not hearing you out loud. WHY ARE YOU IN MY HEAD?” I throw my hands over my ears and stare at the hairy little beast in horror.

I’m a telepath, child, the mouse tells me in her lilting little voice. She scratches her ear with a hind leg and watches me with her beady black eyes.

“That’s creepy, dude.”

Would you like my help in locating the King of Norland, or not?

“Wait,” I ask, “how do you know that’s who I’m looking for?”

As I said, I’m a telepath.

I shrug. “Makes sense. Do you know where he is?”

Yes. Her whiskers twitch like her face is folding into a smile. Now follow me!

And off up the stairs the mouse leaps.

“Hey, hold up!” I call after her. “What’s your name?”

Without stopping her scramble towards the top of the staircase, the mouse responds, Mr. Squeaks.

Mr.? But you sound like a girl!”

I am a girl. But unfortunately my parents were planning on a boy when they chose my name.

“What crappy parents,” I mutter.

Don’t let them hear you say that, or my father might set your hair on fire, Mr. Squeaks warns.

“Your father’s a pyromaniac mouse?!”

The mouse chortles in my mind. No, of course not, silly! My family, besides being a breed of telepathic mouse, also has control over things like fire and explosions. Her tone darkens. So don’t get on my bad side.

We finally reach the top of the staircase, and I throw myself sideways out, flattening against a wall in case one of the ghosts is near. We’re alone in the hallway, though.

Come, human child! Mr. Squeaks urges. This way!

“I’m not a child, you know,” I tell her as I race to keep up, twisting through passageways and ducking through rooms. “I’m an adult—a young one, but an adult nonetheless. I’d be in college if it weren’t for all this magic and alien crap.”

Quick, in here!

The mouse ducks behind a statue of Sebastian dressed in robes like a Greek god just as one of his soldiers rounds the next corner. I slide in behind her and watch as he examines the hallway to make sure it’s empty—missing us in our super secret, super cool hideout (obviously)—and then returns to the next hall.

He is one of the King’s guards, Mr. Squeaks says in a quivering voice.

“How many of them are there?” I ask.

Thirteen. Sebastian is ever so careful with the King.

“You think if I tell them their vampire-ruler-man is stuck in a coma-like state, they’ll let me just bust the King right on out of there and take him to rescue the people in the dungeon?”

By “people,” do you mean “everyone but Kra”?

“Duh,” I say. “Who in their right minds would release that creep? No one.”

They probably still will not come to your aid where it concerns the King, however. More than Sebastian values his well-being, he values destroying the well-being of his prisoners.

“Fabulous,” I say, but dust off my hands and get to my feet anyway. “Well, let’s get to it. Any idea how to get rid of a few ghosts?”

Oh, I’ve got some ideas.

            Before I can react, Mr. Squeaks sprints off towards the corner, and dips around it. I follow as quickly as possible, sliding to a stop with my back right against the wall. Just as I peek around the corner, Mr. Squeaks shouts, May the loathing of my family be upon your heads! An explosion likes a firework rocks the next hall, and the ghosts scatter, screaming.

            Come quickly, child! Mr. Squeaks instructs. I dodge the fleeing ghosts and make a beeline for the door Mr. Squeaks is running towards. One of the ghosts has dropped a set of heavy iron keys on the floor, and I stoop to pick them up, quickly trying out the keys in the lock. It’s the second to last one that fits, and the door swings open. Beyond is darkness.

            “Hello?” I call through the doorway, impatient. “Mr. King, sir? Are ya in there?”

            “Oh yay! You have come to save me, have you not? You are the obnoxious human girl, Mary Hart, are you not?” comes a squeaky little voice from the darkness. “Hurray! You have saved me, finally. Yippee!”

            And out of the dark room beyond comes flitting a pixie much like Pixie Stick, only this one has slick black hair on its head, styled to look just like Elvis’s.

            “The King,” I say, my shoulders falling. “He lives.”

            Well of course the King of Norland lives, dearie, says Mr. Squeaks like she thinks my statement is crazy.

            “Not the King I was referring to.” I sigh and make myself grab for the pixie’s hand, tugging him in the direction we just came from. “Well, now that we’ve got you, let’s go. We need to make a pit stop in the dungeon to save some friends and an enemy, I’m afraid, but then we’ll surely be getting you out of here to head back to Norland.”

            “Save some friends?” chirps the King. “Like who?”

            “One of your pixie comrades and Rose, the zombie-ghostie-thing I got paired up with in this whole mission of saving you.”

            “And now I must save her?” He giggles. “How all very complex!”

            “Glad to see you’re the glass half-full type,” I say. “Now come on.”

With Mr. Squeaks scouting ahead of us and clearing out the evil ghosts all the way back down to the dungeons, it takes only a quarter of the time to make it back. I stick the mouse on top of my head while I climb down the ladder, after making her promise not to defecate on me, and the King floats down.

Immediately, the light in the room grows, despite the night above us.

“Oh dear,” says the King upon spotting Sebastian and Rose. “I see what you meant.”

“My King!” Pixie Stick cheers from his cell. “My King, the Ugly has found you!”

“Yes, my dear subject,” the King says, flittering over to the other pixie, “the Ugly has indeed.”

“Hey, not to break up this happy reunion, but—” I indicate to the two people still in a trance and say, “—we kind of need to get out of here before Edward Cullen’s minions realize Mr. Squeaks isn’t a Norse god and we are most definitely trying to escape.”

“Do not fret, dearest Mary Hart. I simply need a sword, and…” He lifts his hands above his head and wiggles his fingers, and a little tiny butter knife-like thing appears in them. “Now, who shall I wake up first?”

“What is that, a toothpick? What are you going to do with that?”

“Anything this sword touches will be released from its prison. I simply must touch the blade to your ghost friend’s skin and the memory will leave her.”

“Fabulous. Get to it.” I point to Rose. “Her first. And if you really must, then Sebastian second.”

“Unfortunately, as King, I am bound by a code of honor—”

“Yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah. This is why I’m an assassin. We have no honor. Wake up Rose so we can get out of this place before I get hypothermia.” I shiver, staring at all the ice.

The King pops himself into Rose’s cell, and flies over to her. With a little Fairy Godmother-flair, he taps her on the shoulder with the blunt end of his sword, and Rose immediately jumps to alertness.

“Who, what, where—?”

“No time to explain,” I say. “King dude—wake up Sebastian so we can get our butts out of here.” There’s a rumbling coming from the floor above us, like dozens and dozens of angry voices gathering together in a roar.

The King zaps over to where I left Sebastian on the floor beside the ladder, and taps the vampire on the shoulder. He jerks to awareness, swiping out with his hands and his white eyes rolling back into his skull.

“What happened?” he thunders.

“We saved you, that’s what,” I spit.

“You’re out of your cell,” he says in disbelief. “How did you get out of your cell?”

The sound of his voice has caught the attention of the ghost soldiers above, and now I can make out several of them peering down at us from the hole.

“Don’t just float there!” Sebastian shouts. “Get them!”

In an instant, the dungeons become a flood of ghosts, as one after another floats down through the hall with a weapon at the ready.

“We need a distraction!” yells Rose from where she is still trapped in her cell.

“Ya think?!” I dodge the swipe of a ghost’s knife, and then a light bulb goes off inside my brain. “Wait, I’ve got it!” I make eye contact with the King, and he smiles knowingly. He tosses his micro-sword to me just in time for me to catch it and slice through the ice bars of the cell nearest me, releasing the creature within.

I shout, “Release the Kraaaa-ken!”

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Make sure to check Mel’s blog for Chapter Twenty Five, coming soon!

 

~Julia

This Is a Book: Chapter Twenty Two

Hey, look–it’s a two-for-one special! Two chapters right in a row for once!

If you haven’t had an opportunity to read Chapter Twenty One of This Is a Book yet, just posted to Mel’s blog earlier today, make sure to go check that out.

Haven’t voted in the character creation poll yet? Hello. I am a link. Follow me to greatness. (Voting will be running for another week.)

Don’t know what This Is a Book is? Follow this link.

Need to catch up on previous chapters? Follow this link.

**********

Chapter Twenty Two: Across the Universe

            “You are so ugly.” I stare at Rose’s ex with my mouth hanging wide open, like a mailbox with a broken hinge. “You almost married this guy?” I don’t dare glance at Rose as I ask the question, sure that if I were in her position I would be boiling with fury at the sight of such a horrible ex-almost-husband. I run my eyes up and down Mr. Doom and Gloom’s body and fold my arms. “Uck. Dodged a bullet there.”

            “Oh yes,” says Ghost-man, copying my stance with disturbing ease. “Mary Hart. The arrogant girl with the unfortunate birthmark.”

            My hand instinctively flies to cover the space below my eye. “What, do all dead people dislike heart-shaped moles? I thought it was just Titanic Girl. You people are weird.” I peer at him through my bangs and wrinkle my nose as I realize, “Hey—you’re, like, blind or something. How do you even know about my birthmark.”

            “You’re in an alternate dimension,” the pixie chirps from where it hovers in the air on the other side of Rose, “and you feel the need to ask that?”

            “Of all the sentient beings to ask me that.” I roll my eyes. “What are you, anyway?” I ask Mr. Doom. “Wearing fancy colored contacts? Messing with my mind to simply make me think that you are blind?”

            “Of course not, Mary Hart. I am simply no longer—shall I say human? And because of that, I no longer exactly see the way your species does.” For a creepy dude holding a king and a heart hostage in an enchanted, evil castle, he is the perfect gentleman in his mannerisms and dress. His black hair is combed neatly to the sides, parted down the middle like an uber nerd’s (Randy went through that phase), and he wears a crimson three piece suit that is so dark it nearly looks black under the grey skies of this other-world.

            It’s Rose who pipes up just enough to ask, “Sebastian, what are you?”

            “Is it not obvious, my dear?” he asks with a grand sweep of his arms. The suit jacket sleeves are poorly tailored and flutter as he moves, like wings.

            “Wait, I’ve seen this movie.” I take a step back and manage to trip over my own feet, landing on my butt with a resonant thud that echoes through the barren land. The ghosts up at the top of the gate howl with laughter—Lion King hyenas style. The pixie stifles a snort with the back of its hand but doesn’t offer to help me up. Despite the fact that Rose is still floating, it seems she is rooted in place, and I can see Sebastian’s pale form straight through her. I can feel his attention centered on me, even though his pure white eyes twitch and stare past me, around me, through me.

Then I get it. He can’t actually see me with his white eyes; that’s not how he can tell what I do. And that only leaves one option, for those of us well-versed in pop culture: he must be able to read my mind.

“Please tell me you’re secretly super friendly and attractive like the vampires in the movies?” I ask. I try to keep my voice strong, but I squeak on the last word. Sebastian turns his sightless gaze onto me and his colorless lips lift into a smile.

“Did no one ever tell you how awful the Twilight franchise is?” he asks. His teeth are jagged—not exactly like fangs, but close enough to make me want to vomit all over him.

“Yes.” My voice quivers. “Because it wasn’t scary enough.”

“Brilliant, that means you know the truth.” He does not take a single step towards me, but it’s suddenly like he’s right in my ear, whispering the words straight into my mind, forcing a shuddering shiver down my spine as my fingers clench and my toes curl in my shoes. “And the truth is that you should be very, very frightened of me, Mary Hart.”

“Hey, Pixie Stick?” I ask. “Wouldn’t now be, I don’t know, a good time to get us out of here or something?”

The pixie must be as scared as I am, because it doesn’t move its mouth an inch in response. Rose is so still she might as well be dead, like, for real. The only ones moving are Sebastian’s ghost guards, as they flood down from the top of the gate to surround us.

“Are you there, Pixie Stick?” I try. “It’s me, Ugly. Please get us out of here and I will never ask for anything again. Not that I’ve ever asked for much, outside of getting you to leave me out of the obviously very messed up political situation your country is experiencing right now, but seriously. I won’t even ask for that anymore if you just get us out of here.”

Sebastian lets out a sharp little cackle before taking a step around Rose to face me directly. He says, “Oh, but would you be willing to leave without her?” He beckons with a nod and my gaze turns to one of fiery anger.

Oh no. He did not.

“I amend my prayer to the Great and Powerful Pixie Stick,” I say immediately. “By ‘us’ I meant you, dearest Pixie Stick, me, and most definitely also Rose obviously. Thank you. Amen.” I give Sebastian an I- told-you-so glare. I may be on the ground in obnoxiously small and dirty business attire, but that doesn’t mean some idiot Twilight character can boss me around by finding loopholes in my pleas for help.

“Ahhh, but you must realize, Mary Hart,” he says with another small chuckle, “it is less of a loophole in your plea, as much as a regular hole in your logic. After all, Rose physically cannot leave my world, here, at the moment.”

“Since when has anything physically stopped Rose from doing something? She’s a freaking ghost-zombie, blood-breath.”

Ha! I’ve got him now!

“Of course, I am referring to the fact that any being—dead, alive, or otherwise—missing a piece of themselves cannot leave this realm. My dearest Rose is, as you modern humans would say, stuck here.”

“I can’t leave,” Rose says, finally turning to face me with a vacant expression on her translucent face. “Not without my heart.”

Sebastian claps his hands together in an almost giddy way and turns to face his nearest minion. “Take them,” he commands, and the ghosts descend.

**********

Watch out for Chapter Twenty Three, coming to Mel’s blog soon!

 

~Julia

This Is a Book: Character Polling

Here we finally are! The rules of this next round in our character creation contest for This Is a Book are simple. Just read over the descriptions everyone submitted over the course of the past few weeks–pasted below–and then vote for up to three of your favorite characters, using our handy little voting widget at the bottom of this post. Just make sure not to vote for your own, because that would be rude and unfair to everyone else’s brilliant creations. I’ll be back later with an official ending date to the voting period, but for now know that you’ve got at least a week from today (Monday, May 20th).

Got it? Good. 🙂 Let’s get started.

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NAME OF CHARACTER: Mr. Squeaks
TYPE OF CREATURE/PERSON: Telepathic Mouse
SPECIAL ABILITY: Can communicate telepathically, cause explosions and start small fires with her thoughts.
PLACE OF ORIGIN: The dumpster behind the deli on Walsh St.
DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC: Friendly, outgoing, sociopathic. Favored method of torture involves flooding victim’s minds with images of a scantily clad Dick Cheney. Has total control over rodent brethren. Likes to eat discarded Toaster Pastries.

 

NAME OF CHARACTER: Lewis James Frogg
TYPE OF CREATURE/PERSON: Super Hero

SPECIAL ABILITY: Has super strength on Monday, can fly on Wednesdays, has x-ray vision on Friday. He has no idea why. It may-or-may not be discovered that his apartment was built over a buried nuclear waste drum. His control over these powers is hit-or-miss. He finds it easier to control the powers while listening to opera music or after meditation. He hates doing both of those things.

PLACE OF ORIGIN: Queens, New York

DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC: He just received his powers and is very keen on figuring out how they work. His ultimate goal is to become an honest-to-god super hero, but he’s not really sure how yet. He enjoys: reading comic books, cheering on the Yankees, playing pac man on his phone (he’s on level 78), Brisk (what, it’s good!) and M&Ms. He’s got brains and bravery down pat, but his brawn is a little bit to be desired. He’s kind of on the nerdy side. Looks great in glasses but insists on wearing contacts.

 

 

NAME OF CHARACTER: Is

TYPE OF CREATURE/PERSON: Being verb

SPECIAL ABILITY: He allows others to grammatically exist. He is a verb of being.

PLACE OF ORIGIN: Linguistics

 

NAME OF CHARACTER: Dustan
TYPE OF CREATURE/PERSON: Young macho man. His good looks and suave personality catch the women (that is until they get to know him and discover his, um, problem)
SPECIAL ABILITY: He has an embarrassing problem… he sweats profusely at the slightest stress, soaking his clothes and its so bad it pours out of his face and arms and he literally rains down onto the ground (see the irony – name is like dust/dry and he rains).
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Arizona
DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC: Dark, slightly wavy, shiny, thick hair. 5’10″, slender yet muscular. Wears cool dude clothes. Is stuck on himself. He saunters around like he’s God’s gift to women and doesn’t understand why they get turned off by him after they were initially so interested. He’s frustrated, but keeps trying the same tactics. But time after time, his stuck up personality and his sweating problem turn them off once they get to know him.

 

NAME OF CHARACTER: Spiffy

TYPE OF CREATURE/PERSON: A buffalo-man

SPECIAL ABILITY: Can make very long sentences that are actually grammatically correct. Also, can stampede over anyone. Ever.

PLACE OF ORIGIN: The Wild Plains

DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC: Very hairy. Also, a bit of a bully.

 

 

NAME OF CHARACTER: Elane Erica Levine

TYPE OF CREATURE/PERSON: Shape-Shifter

SPECIAL ABILITY: Can transform into any inanimate object with a female gender in the French Language due to her French Family roots. Transformation takes effort and often over-exertion makes her very, VERY cranky.

PLACE OF ORIGIN: Brooklyn

DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC: Oldest of five siblings, keeps her powers a secret, looking for adventure. Has a passion for: Graphic novels, Mozart and Metallica (not at the same time), hoodies, popcorn, Pranks, gaudy earrings, cute girls (as if a magical power wasn’t enough to hide), and Diet Cherry-Vanilla Dr. Pepper.

 

 

NAME OF CHARACTER: Schnezz (Or Schnezzie, if you’re trying to be cute)

TYPE OF CREATURE/PERSON: Human dude

SPECIAL ABILITY: NOSE SO GLORIOUS THAT WHEN HE SNEEZES SOMEONE DIES AT ITS RADIANCE

PLACE OF ORIGIN: Russia

 

NAME OF CHARACTER:Kra
TYPE OF CREATURE/PERSON: A badass monster
SPECIAL ABILITY:Being a badass. And being an annoying know it all that eats people when they say something dumb. And being a badass.
PLACE OF ORIGIN:Atlantis
DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC: She thinks that killing people might make them like her. But it doesn’t. It just makes people dead.

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Thanks, and remember to read new chapters of This Is a Book, every Thursday on this blog and Sunday on Mel’s!

 

~Julia

This Is a Book: Chapter Twenty

Wow, can you believe we’re already up to Chapter Twenty in This Is a Book? Yes?

Well. It probably would have been more dramatic if I’d been able to remember what day of the week was Thursday more often, thus actually allowing us to get chapters out biweekly like we’re supposed to (and, you know, instead of on Monday). Whoops. I blame summer vacation.

Anyway, here, finally, is Chapter Twenty. And watch out soon for my post on polling for all those awesome characters you came up with! (Potato.)

Don’t know what This Is a Book is? Follow this link.

Need to catch up on previous chapters? Follow this link.

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Chapter Twenty: Al Capone Does My Shirts

            Rose is kidding. She is absolutely kidding.

            “What do you mean you can feel your heart? You’re dead, remember?”

            Wrong thing to say. Without even gracing me with a reply, Rose stalks off in the direction of the castle. It’s hard going. After only a step, she hunches over, dress balled in her fist at her chest, a low, frustrated scream escaping from between her lips. I turn to exchange looks with the pixie, but he’s gone. Of course.

            And now I am alone in a funky other-world with a ghost who has turned from levelheaded to constipated in a matter of seconds. Yay me.

            Then it occurs to me: Whatever is in that weird, sleek castle, it’s affecting Rose. Nothing ever affects Rose. She’s a zombie-ghost-thing.

            “Oh my gosh,” I say, stepping around Rose’s still struggling body so that I’m in front of her.

            “What?” she manages to get out from between her teeth.

            “I think you’re right. I think it is your heart. Because you’re acting almost real.”

            “Yes. Because not… being able… to walk,” she struggles, “seems… really… realistic, Mary.”

            Ignoring her, I say, “Here, let me help you out…” I reach towards her and she bares her teeth. I jump back, not sure if the other ghostly characteristics besides her ability to walk through walls (and, ya know, air) have begun to waver as well—like maybe she could possibly actually bite me now. “Or not.”

            “I need…” she grunts, “… to get… to… it…”

            “Why?” I ask, then something on her face catches my attention and I lean closer again. “Whoa. Rose. Your eyes are all bloodshot. How is that even possible?”

            “We… are in… a differentdimension,” she feels the need to remind me.

            “Good point.” I step back and cross my arms. “So why do you need to get to the castle? You really think your heart is there?”

            “I don’t… think… it’s there… I… know… it’s… there…!” she gasps out.

            “Okay, okay, okay,” I put my hands up, “don’t get testy with me.”

            “Are… you… serious… right now?”

            “Fine. Here. I’m going to help you.”

I reach out to touch Mary on the shoulders, hoping that she truly has become solid enough that I can do that (what a weird thing to be hopeful for), but the instant my skin comes in contact with hers, my legs turn to lead and the air gets sucked out of my lungs so fast it’s like I’ve been punched in the throat. Everything turns crimson, running in rivers, dripping from the sky, bleeding from beneath my fingernails. I stumble to the ground, and the moment I lose contact with Rose, everything turns back to normal. Well, as normal as it is in these parts.

“What. The—” Before I can finish my outburst, Rose cuts me off with a wave of her hand. Her eyes go cold as she takes one last step towards the castle, then gives up. As soon as she stops struggling, she goes back to normal as well. The pain leaves her face and she stands straight, floating a good foot off the ground.

I glower up at her, choking on air. “What in PWNBEIBER’s name did you just do to me?”

Me?” she snaps. “I did not do anything! It’s the magic of this place!”

I grunt, force myself to stand, and square my shoulders at her. “Rose, whatever’s in that castle, it’s obviously not good if it just nearly killed me. And did—you know—whatever it did to you. As the only member of this team whose actual life is at stake here, I vote we find that pipsqueak pixie, force him to take us to America—the real America this time—and get the heck away from the creepy king and your tell-tale dead heart and whatever else there might be lurking around here in this alternate dimension.”

“Who died and made you queen?” Rose asks, crossing her arms.

“Your sanity and Benjamin Franklin. Because, as I will remind you, you work for me.”

“I will remind you,” Rose says, “your supposed alien invasion is not the most prominent problem at the moment.”

“Have you always been like this, or did death make you grouchy?” I ask.

“You would know.”

“Yeah?” I ask. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means you are the most insolent dolt I have ever had the displeasure of meeting, Mary. And, believe me, I have met quite a few of your type. It means—”

“Wait.” I put up a hand, glancing over my shoulder towards the castle. Rose stops midsentence.

Her words are quiet as she says, “What is it?”

“It’s not just me. You’re being affected by it too.”

“Affected by what?” she asks. “All I’m aware of is all the bleeding, bloody blood everywhere.”

There is pressure behind my eyes, growing stronger with every taunt. I stare at the dark, glossy castle on the horizon. It’s almost… pulsing. Growing with our anger.

“Rose, if your heart is in that castle, I don’t think you want to get it back.”

“And why’s that?” She plants her hands on her hips.

“Because it’s evil.” A shiver runs down my spine, spreading heavy cold to my limbs. I am at a loss for clever comebacks.

There’s a little pop to the right of me, and we both jump. The pixie has reappeared.

“Okay, Frank Sinatra,” I say. “What’s going on here?”

“The King,” the little fruit bat says seriously, like this is explanation enough.

“Yeah, and?”

“He is imprisoned there.” It gives me a look like this should be obvious.

“By what?” I’m starting to think I might actually rather not know.

“The other one knows.” It nods in Rose’s direction.

I laugh. “Hear that, Ugly #2?” I say to her. “Pipsqueak, here, thinks you know what’s going on.” The laugh turns into a full out snort as Rose’s expression darkens. She opens her mouth to speak, and I stop. “Wait, you don’t really know what’s going on here, do you? You’re lost too, right?”

“No,” says Rose. She stares at the castle, one eyebrow lowered, her lips pursed.

“‘No,’what?” I pause. “You don’t know what’s going on, do you?”

“No,” she repeats. “No, actually I do.”

**********

So, reminder to watch out for the polling post, and Chapter Twenty One will be up on Mel’s blog soon! Hopefully we’ll eventually get back onto our regular schedule.

 

~Julia

This Is a Book: Chapter Eighteen

Sorry for getting this up two days late! This week’s been kind of crazy for me, between being sick and moving home and everything. Plus, yesterday was my mom’s birthday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MADRE MI MADRE!!!) and this weekend is my high school’s spring musical (congratulations on a great show as usual, guys!), and because of all that, I haven’t actually been around much to write.

However, now we’ve finally got Chapter Eighteen, so here we go!

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Chapter Eighteen: The Da Vinci Code

            You are kidding me. You are absolutely kidding me. I finally find myself on the right side of the pond, and the first thing I stumble into isn’t even a Walmart or something—it’s a bunch of lousy crop circles.

            I hate my life. I hate my life, I hate my life, I hate my—

            “Well,” I interrupt myself, “we’d better get exploring. Make sure there aren’t any radioactive bits of rock or anything left behind by the aliens for a farmer to break his tractor on.”

            Rose and I follow the path between the circles, trying to get a feel for how many there are. The one we first found is definitely the largest, but there are another four beyond it. We have to dodge left and right to follow the paths between them, like we’re walking over a messed up version of the Olympic rings.

When we finally reach the fifth circle and can’t find a new path leading off of it, I plop down off to the side, away from the more dangerous center of the circle, and Rose hovers to a stop beside me.

“There are five circles,” I say. “Five big ol’ alien-made crop circles right in the middle of a perfectly good cornfield.”

            “Maybe the aliens like sports?” she muses. “The circles seem sort of like the Olympic rings.”

            “That’s creepy,” I say. “I was just thinking the same exact thing. Either you’re a mind-reader, or we have definitely been spending too much time together.”

            “Lucky for the both of us, I do believe it’s the latter. I don’t want to know what goes through that insane mind of yours.” She fakes a shiver, and the sunlight goes wobbling through her.

            I roll my eyes and say, “No worries, I devise plans for offing Randy far more often than you.”

            “That’s probably because I’m already dead.” She crosses her arms.

            “I’d say the alien presence in these crop circles was making you grouchy, but it might just be the fact that I am finally happy and you’re naturally a sourpuss.” I rest back against my arms, stretching out along the edge of the circle, and close my eyes. The sun is warm on my cheeks and forehead, the cornstalk-strewn ground squishy and soft beneath me, and I’m sleepy… sleepy… veeery sleeeeepy………

            “Mary!” Rose snaps. My eyes fly open and I jump to my feet. There’s dirt all over my legs, leaves in my hair. I tug my pint-size business attire back into place and stare at her, mouth open. I am suddenly alert.

            “We have to get out of the crop circles,” I say.

            “Why?” There’s even more distress in Rose’s expression than her voice.

            “They’re messing with my mind, making me tired. This is bad. Really, really bad, so we’ve gotta get out, and—” I stop. “Hasn’t it been this intensely sunny and beautiful out for an oddly long time now? And those clouds—” I point, “—they haven’t moved! Quick, get out of the circle.”

            Despite her bemusement, Rose follows my instructions and floats her way into the nearby corn. I race after her, crashing through the stalks. The moment my feet leave the crop circle, the sky turns to night so quickly it’s like I’ve gone blind. We continue until we’re a solid fifteen or twenty feet away from the nearest circle, and then I collapse out of exhaustion, but for an entirely different reason this time, as my adrenaline falls.

            “If you thought I hated aliens before,” I huff between gasps for breath, “you have no idea how much I despise them now.”

            “That was weird,” Rose says. She’s staring back the direction we came.

            “You think?”

            “Why would the aliens leave weird magical circles behind.”

            “You’re my informant on all things alien invasion,” I say. “Shouldn’t you be telling me?”

            She frowns, not seeming to have heard me. “What are they doing in the United States, after you’ve been looking for them in England?”

            I rub the heel of my hand across my eyes and groan, “Alien invasions always occur in the United States, Rose. We’re the epicenter of the entire freaking universe, don’t you know? I was only looking for them in England because I was stranded there.” I force myself to my feet and begin pushing my way through the corn back in what I hope is the direction of the road, and not more alien voodoo magic.

            Soon enough, we’re back on gravel instead of dirt and bird poop, and we walk in the opposite direction of the Beverly Hillbilly’s house. The sun is just beginning to rise for real when we find ourselves in Podunk Town, America. There’s one block of cracked pavement here, along the sides of which are a hardware store, a gas station with only one pump, a general store, a teeny tiny schoolhouse that I’m pretty sure even the Little House on the Prairie peeps would scoff at, and a diner.

            My stomach grumbles on sight.

            “Do you think they have ice cream in there?” My mouth salivates.

            “You are truly the most unhealthy, disgusting person I have ever known,” Rose says, “and believe me—I have met quite a few disgusting people throughout my life.”

            “Yarg, I’m Rose, I’m a pirate.” I cover one eye with a hand, like an eyepatch, making sure to leave my heart-shaped mole visible.

            She scrunches her nose and glares. “Just go get your ice cream, would you?”

            I stick out my tongue at her.

            The diner appears to have just opened for the morning when we stumble our way in. Unlike the Cowboys & Aliens-style bar I’m expecting, it has a dusty linoleum floor that probably hasn’t been mopped since it was installed in the ’50s, flickering florescent lights overhead, and chrome-plated tables. Some farmers, even dustier than the floor, sit at the counter sipping coffee and munching bacon. A redheaded waitress with big eyes and an even bigger smile bustles her way over to us at the door, a menu under one arm.

            “Good mornin’, sweetheart! Just you today?”

            It takes me a second, in my sleep deprived state, to remember that Rose is invisible, and doesn’t eat anyway.

            “Yeah. Yeah, just me.”

            I catch the waitress biting her lip at my Tarzan-style hairdo, and she gives me a wary but sympathetic smile. “Well, right this way then, missy.”

            She sets me up in a booth near the windows and plops the menu down before me. I try to lift it from the table, but the surface is so sticky the darn thing won’t budge.

            The waitress turns to head back to the kitchen, still smiling her head off like she’s Barbie or something, when it occurs to me to ask, “Wait—please!” She whips back to face me, and her beehive hair doesn’t sway an inch. How much hairspray is this woman wearing? She could put a hole in the ozone layer all on her own. “Have you ever heard of Shady Lane?”

            “Shady Lane, darlin’?” I nod. “Well of course I have, hon! I darn right live on it! ’Bout half a’ town does, I reckon. Ya know someone out that way?”

            “Yes, yes,” I say. “My brother. I haven’t seen him in years. Would you mind giving me some directions to the street?”

            “Why of course not, sweetheart.” She pulls a pad of paper from her apron and draws a quick map of town.

            “What do you think you’re doing?” Rose asks from the other side of the booth.

            I shoot her a look that says, I just got here. I’m not going to reply to you right now and make myself look even crazier than I already do when this lady is in the middle of graciously helping me.

            Rose gives me the evil eye. I turn back to the waitress and give her the biggest, most obnoxious smile I can manage on an empty stomach. It’s still not as big as her own when she hands me the map.

            “Thank you so much! You’re so kind,” I say.

            “Of course, honey! I’ll do anythin’ for a friend, and we’s all friends here at Rosie’s Diner!”

            Rosie’s Diner? Why didn’t I think to look at the name of the place before coming in?

            As soon as the waitress is out of hearing distance, I say to Rose, “Rosie’s Diner. That’s sort of strange, don’t you think?”

            “There are quite a few people in the world named Rose, Mary,” she replies dryly. “You truly are losing it if you think that means anything.”

            “I live in a world without coincidences, Rose,” I say. I slouch against the bench. “And there have been quite a few strange coincidences since we arrived in the USA.”

            She’s just opened her mouth to speak when the uber-friendly waitress comes flitting back with a mug in one hand, a bowl full of white crystals in the other. “Tea and sugar for the sweet British girl!” she grins.

            Oh no. Not another one thinking I’m a Brit.

            “I’m Ameri—” I begin to say, when the more important response occurs to me: “Wait. I didn’t order tea.”

            “No worries, dear, it’s on the house.” She sets the dishes on the table, sloshing tea over the rim of the mug, and then hurries away without a backwards glance.

            “See, Rose? It’s strange.” I stare at the mug. “Plus, this tea hasn’t even been prepared properly. There are leaves floating all in it.”

            “You dowdy Americans have never known how to brew a good cup of tea.”

            “Says someone who can’t even drink it.”

            “Now that was just plain rude.”

            I wrench a spoon from the table and dip it into the tea, lifting the floating leaves out of it. I’m about to wipe them onto my napkin when I realize they’ve formed themselves into a shape—two words.

            “‘I’m here,’” I read.

            “What?” asks Rose.

            Then the lights go out.

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Watch out for Mel’s next chapter, coming soon to a blog near you!

 

~Julia

This Is a Book: Chapter Sixteen

Reminder that you have until midnight tonight to submit a character form for us to use for future chapters of This Is a Book! Just follow this link link link for details. 🙂

Don’t know what This Is a Book is? Follow this link.

Need to catch up on previous chapters? Follow this link.

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Chapter Sixteen: Life of Pi

            “What?” Rose is confused. “Kansas? Toto?”

            “Of course,” I say, rolling my eyes. “Of course you’ve never seen The Wizard of Oz.”

            “The Wizard of What?”

            “Oz.” I throw my hands in the air. “Gosh, it doesn’t matter! I was being ironic anyway.” I spread my arms wide to take in the very un-English blue sky above us and the rows upon rows of stereotypical cornstalks spread all around. I can hear tires crunching over gravel somewhere to our left, beyond the corn, and birds chirp as they swoop low overhead. “Welcome, my dear ghosty compadre,” I say, “to the Land of the Free. Or at least Canada.”

            “What?”

            “The greatest place on Earth? ¿La parte del norte de las Américas?” Still blank. “The New World?”

            “I know what you’re talking about, Mary,” says Rose. “I just want to know what makes you think we have actually left the continent.”

            “Besides the fact that it’s not overcast and we were just magically transported through the Norlands by a pixy stick?”

            “Yes,” says Rose. She is especially transparent under the bright sunlight, her heavy dress darker and her skin paler. She seems out of place around such happy weather.

            I am home.

            “Come on.” I point in the direction of the car sounds. Rose stares at me, expressionless. I bite my lip out of the sheer awkwardness. We tramp through the rows of corn to the road. The leaves slap me across the face, scratching at my neck and legs, but Rose just drafts on through. She has her arms crossed, her expression still skeptical.

            The instant we reach the gravel, a rusty, dirt-coated red pickup truck nearly runs us over, and I have to jump back to avoid going the same way as the diplomat. Rose lingers back a step, her mouth open in a full-out gape.

            “That driver was on the American side of the road!” I cheer, pumping my fist in the air. “Believe me now, sucka?”

            “Yes,” says Rose, “but not because of the side of the road. The fact that he almost just ran you over and you don’t even seem to care is what makes him seem most American to me.”

            “You,” I say, turning and pointing at her, trying to hold back my obnoxious five-year-old-on-Christmas shrieks of joy, “are a blossom of hope and optimism, Rose.”

            Finally, I can’t hold it in anymore, and I start happy dancing on the spot. “I’m home, I’m home, I’m home!!!” I jump up and down and do a cartwheel across the gravel.

            “Uh, I hate to break it to you, Mary,” Rose says, trailing after me apprehensively, “but isn’t it dangerous for you to be this side of the pond? Because of the government’s vendetta against you?”

            “So what?” I scream to the vast, bright, beautiful blue sky. “This country’s huge, there’s no way they’ll find me! Yay yay yay!!!” I do another cartwheel.

            “Mary, shouldn’t we be concerned as to how we ended up all the way in the rural United States of America from a newspaper office in urban Great Britain? Of Europe? Of an entirely different continent?”

            “Well, it’s the same planet,” I say with a shrug, “so I’m not too worried.” Then it occurs to me—“Wait!” I freeze mid-dance move.

            “Finally, has your brain caught up with the sudden, extreme physical shift of your body?” Rose inquires.

            “No,” I say. I scrunch my eyebrows low and frown. “Namely because, if anything, my brain got here first. Because obviously my reasoning hasn’t been working 100% for the past year or so, if I decided to work with you.”

            “Oh joy,” Rose scowls, “your charming and selfless personality has also caught up with you.”

            “Shut it, Keira Knightly-impersonator.” I narrow my eyes. “All I was going to say was that we need to find a phone so we can call Randy. Let him know what’s up. Make sure he doesn’t call the CIA on me.”

            “You truly think Randy would call the CIA on you?”

            “Now that I’m not in near enough to murder him in reaction before they got to me, yeah.”Rose’s eyes go wide and I throw my head back, laughing. “What, you actually thought Randy and I are close enough not to rat each other out when we get the chance? The CIA pays so well for turning in suspects in assassination cases. That poor thief-child would never have to klepto his way through a newspaper office again!”

            I look up and down the road, guess the direction of the nearest farmhouse, and set off that way. Rose scampers after me. Another rusted pickup truck speeds past us without even attempting to make us feel like the driver cares about our presence at the side of the gravel swath.

Gosh, if I had known working with that Norlands dweeb would get me back to the country faster than stopping the alien apocalypse would, I would have gone along with that whole find-the-king craziness so much sooner.

            “Why do you want to let him know you aren’t still somewhere in London, then?” Rose calls after me.

            “Because unless that magic fellow shows up again sometime soon to whisk us back to the City of Doom, Randy’s going to put his two brain cells together and realize that we’ve vacated the continent. And then he will surely try to turn me in, and we can’t have that when I’ve just now gotten home, now can we?”

            “Are you even from farm-country?” Rose asks.

            “Ha! No, of course not. You think I learned how to kill people out in the boondocks? That’s so MI6, not PWNBEIBER. I’m from Maryland. Look!” There’s a little white house just on the horizon, with a picket fence and a cow out front and everything. I break into a sprint. “HOME!” I shout. “HOME ON THE RANGE! WHERE THE WIND COMES SWEEPING DOWN THE PLAIN!” I do a twirl while I run.

            “You’re barmy!” Rose shouts after me. “Absolutely, bleeding, nutzo bonkers!”

            I reach the picket fence and swing myself over it without looking for a gate. “Hey! Hi! Hello! Wonderful, antisocial American people! Get off your wifi-abusing butts, I need to ask you for a favor!” I call.

            “Mary, what if the pixie left us in Canada after all, and you just insulted them by referring to them as Americans?” Rose huffs from somewhere up the road.

            I’m about to turn and tell her to shut up again when the front door of the farmhouse squeaks open on its hinges and a hairy man with a beer belly the size of Alaska steps out. I turn my head back to face him so fast my neck cracks. I reach a hand back instinctively. “Oh. Oh, ow. Bloody hell.”

            “Who are you?” the hairy man asks. He leans against his doorframe like it’s just far too much effort to stand upright and squints against the sunlight. “You one of them foreign missionary people?”

            This stops me. “Huh?”

            “Your accent, kid. What is that, Australian?”

            My accent. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh, God do not save the queen, those awful Brits have worn off on me.

            Rose bursts into laughter behind me, doubling over and wiping at her eyes. The only assurance is that the man remains completely oblivious to her otherworldly, European presence.

            “I’m from Maryland, you heathen,” I growl. I cock a hip. Probably not the smartest move, seeing as the guy appears to be the type of American who takes his shotgun to bed with him, but oh well. I’m a trained assassin wanted by the U.S. government. I’m not really concerned about a pesky little shotgun. “Don’t you dare compare me to the Australians. They’re almost as bad as the British, and don’t you dare get me started on the English specifically. Now could I please use your phone, please please please, just for like five seconds? I need to make a call. It’s urgent. Like really urgent. Like… girl problems. Yeah. Girl problems. The phone call is about girl problems.”

            “Where’d you come from, kid?” the guy asks. He doesn’t look like he’s going to let me in. He needs to let me in. He needs to. I need to call a taxi or something, get back to civilization, enjoy my Americanism while it lasts. Get to Randy before he can blabber about my new location.

            I employ the most drastic name I have at my disposal. “Michigan,” I say. “Specifically, Detroit.”

            The man jumps. “Oh, well in that case, come right on in, darlin’!” He skitters out of my way. Rose sobers. I go inside.

**********

One last reminder to fill out the character form if you see this before midnight tonight!

 

~Julia