INTRODUCTION

nter Alypium, a strange hidden world within our own where our old knowledge of magic is kept. Although it is beautiful and mystical, things are caving in with the king hypnotized and his castle turned on its side. Even the very Substance that holds things together has gone awry … and nobody knows how to fix it.

eturn with Erec to where his mother is held hostage by an evil king. Only he can learn the way to set her free.

xperience the mysterious contests to see who will be the next rulers of these lands. Kids have gathered from the unknown parts of our world, but only three will win . . . of course the most likely three have an evil plan.

an you hear the whispers in a dark room that tell of evil plans to destroy Alypium and the surrounding lands? Is it the same person who has put a spell on the king and is attacking the contest winners?

Kingsley’s debut novel is packed with action, mystery, humor, a colorful cast of characters, and a riveting plot. The excerpt below includes the first two chapters of the book.


"This light but not insubstantial outing definitely belongs aboard the Potter wagon, but merits a seat toward the front."
Kirkus Reviews


"Kingsley delivers her tale in a light-hearted yet compelling style . . . The quirky setting is as much a star of this fantasy as any of the characters. A castle tipped onto its side, mazes and magical creatures, and cleverly devised competitions create an atmosphere any fantasy fan will long to visit. The story is peppered with delightful gadgets like . . . nitrowisherine, an explosive substance that also grants wishes. Good news for fantasy readers of all ages.”
Carolyn Bailey, ForeWord Magazine

"DRAGON’S EYE is a fantastic tale of a boy who gets caught up in a world he never knew existed and finds out he’s part of something much bigger than he knew. It is a magical story filled with suspense, intensity, heart, and courage. I loved this book …"
Devon Werkheiser, “Ned,” star of Nickelodeon’s popular daily sitcom
Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide
 

Chapter One

Mrs. Smith

It was early, far too early to wake up in the summer, when Erec Ulysses Rex’s alarm clock went off. The thing paced on its tiny metal legs until it could not stand to wait anymore. Then it kicked a marble that hit Erec right in the cheek, just below his glass eye. Erec rubbed his face and moaned. He opened his good eye. His alarm clock was doing a kind of end zone dance. It pirouetted toward a pen and booted it expertly into Erec’s ear. Erec groaned. The obnoxious thing would pounce on him if he didn’t get up fast. He could always throw it across the room, but it would only find its way back. And then tomorrow it would wake him earlier.

“Leave me alone. I told you I can sleep late. It’s summer.” As Erec pried his head from his pillow, something grabbed his mouth. It was his toothbrush, another annoying gift from his mother. It shook its brush head over Erec’s teeth, gripping his lips with its thin arms and legs. Erec almost choked.

He yanked the toothbrush from his mouth, threw it on the floor and watched it run from the room. Last night Erec had jammed the alarm clock in the back of a bathroom cabinet. He wondered if the toothbrush had helped it escape.

Long ago, when they could afford such things, his mother had ordered these strange, lifelike objects from some store named Vulcan. As he grew up, he became used to these creatures and thought of them almost as pets. But his mother insisted on hiding them from visitors, who if they saw them might think they had completely gone crazy.

It was the start of another bad day, in a bad week, in what Erec thought was a very bad year. His large family kept moving to smaller and smaller places, and growing poorer and poorer. In fact, they had moved nine times this year alone. That left hardly enough time to make friends, let alone lose them when he moved again.

A few days ago, twelve-year-old Erec, his siblings, pets, and their adoptive mother, June O’Hara, moved into what the landlord called a “very modest apartment” in New York City. “Of course,” he added, “legally, this is too small for you all to live here.” Erec thought the landlord was being generous in his description. Rather than crowding on the couch with his brothers, Erec slept in a small closet with the washing machine. He hoped his mother didn’t find more strays—for that’s what they all were.

All of the children in Erec’s family were . . . well, unique. Erec had a glass eye (that was really a sort of plastic). Eleven-year-old Nell needed a walker. Trevor, nine, rarely spoke. The thirteen-year-old twins, Danny and Sammy, were found alone and abandoned. And four-year-old Zoey could be more than a little wild.

Erec was tall and thin with dark hair that was straight in front and wildly curly in the back. His glass eye did not quite match the blue one. But Erec had another problem, far worse than his odd hair and eye. It was something he called “cloudy thoughts.”

Erec’s cloudy thoughts left him dizzy and hazy, like polluted clouds were spinning through his brain. They made his stomach leap into his throat and threaten to hold a Boston Tea Party, dumping its contents out while singing a war chant. But worst of all, once the cloudy thought popped into his head, it was like an order. It would grab him like a sumo wrestler, terrifying him until he followed its command. He felt like a puppet, out of control. No matter how hard he fought, he had to obey.

So far the odd things he was ordered to do were good, like putting pillows at the bottom of the stairs moments before Zoey crashed down, or grabbing her before she ran in front of a car. He was glad to help, of course, but mostly felt like an unpaid, nauseated baby-sitter. And a freak. It was like coming down with an extremely annoying combination of ESP and the stomach flu. But, worse, he was haunted by a fear: what if someday he was commanded to do something terrible?

Erec had not slept well. A loud click had woken him in the middle of the night. He’d figured it was probably a new apartment sound. His stomach had churned for a while, but, luckily, he’d fallen back to sleep.

He combed the front, straight part of his dark hair, not bothering with the tangled curls in back, and stepped over his sleeping dogs, Tutt and King. The coat rack, another of his mother’s purchases from Vulcan, nearly bumped into him as he stumbled by in the hallway. It tried to get attention, tap dancing on the carpet, flapping its wooden arms. Erec waved it away.

Sunlight streamed into the small kitchen, glinting off the twins’ sandy brown hair: Danny’s standing on end, and Sammy’s pulled into a ponytail. Long and lean, Danny wolfed Flying Count cereal from a box. He rolled his bright blue eyes at Erec. “She woke me up.”

Sammy hunched in her chair with a frown. “You’d have woken me if that big . . . clown was in your room staring at you.”

“Yeah, right.” Danny munched more cereal.

“What are you talking about?” Erec asked.

“That.” Sammy pointed at an immense woman overflowing a plastic folding chair by the front door. She did look like a clown. Unnatural white powder coated her face. Her orblike cheeks were decorated with bright red circles of makeup like great balls of fire. Her nose bulged, and thick blue war paint surrounded her slit-like eyes. Slick black hair clung to her wide face, coming to a point at her first chin. A small wedge of bangs in the middle of her forehead made her already heart-shaped face look like an ill-conceived valentine.

“Who is she?”

“The babysitter. Must be magic she doesn’t break that chair,” Sammy whispered. “I woke up, and she was standing over my bed staring at me. I thought I was in a nightmare.”

“Did she wake Nell and Zoey?”

Sammy shook her head. “She was only staring at me.”

“Another admirer. Clowning around.” Danny batted his eyes and fanned himself with his hand.

“Shut up.” A grin took over Sammy’s face.

Danny lowered his voice. “Clown convention gathers in honor of Sammy Rex. Awed by her beauty, they crown her Clown Queen.” He raised his eyebrows. “Oh, no! Your nose is starting to puff!”

Sammy giggled, the morning’s bad start forgotten.

“Mom doesn’t go out this early,” Erec said, looking around for her. “And she doesn’t get sitters anymore. Where did she go?”

Danny shrugged. “To find work, I guess.” He shoved his cereal at Erec. “Want some?”

Erec took a handful of miniature flying counts. His mother had to work several jobs to support them all, he knew that. But it felt like he never saw her anymore.

The toaster, another Vulcan special, shot two pieces of burnt toast at Erec’s chest. He caught them, looked them over, and put them on the counter. “I’m sick of toast.” The toaster puffed smoke and plopped on the counter.

“Mom forgot to hide the Vulcan things,” Erec pointed out. “The coat rack is wandering the hall. What if the sitter sees?”

“She’ll think she’s crazy,” Danny said, liking this idea. “It could be fun.”

Suddenly the room started spinning. Erec grabbed the counter and took a deep breath to steady himself. His stomach twisted and did somersaults like an acrobat. In the distance, it sounded like Sammy was asking if he was all right.

Fear filled his chest. It was happening again. He would be ordered to do something, yet fight it with every ounce of his being because it made him feel so terrified and out of control.

Then the cloudy thought commanded him: Go find your mother.

Where?

Outside the east entrance of Grand Central Station. The hot dog stand. She would not be there, he somehow knew, but he had to go there to find her. She was not hurt but lost.

Erec dropped into a chair and crossed his arms. The dizzy feeling was gone, leaving him gagging. This was ridiculous. His mom was fine. Now he had to run across town because she got lost on the way to a job interview? No way. He was staying right here. His mom could buy a map. It was bad enough having to help little Zoey. This was not fair.

Erec grabbed his seat, fighting his body’s urge to run to Grand Central Station. His feet danced around him, and his legs shot under the table, trying to push him up.

Danny cocked an eyebrow. “Are you getting one of those cloudy things again?”

Erec nodded. He gripped the chair, fighting the urge to stand, until his hands ached. He had to give in. He would not rest until he followed the command. “I gotta get out of here,” he said. “I have to find Mom.” He got up.

“How will you find her?” Sammy said. “She didn’t leave a note.”

Danny shrugged. “He’ll find her, all right. He’ll crash into her by accident. Remember when he was studying, and he had to run outside in his pajamas and pick up a garbage can, and he didn’t know why? And it turned out that scrawny cat was pinned under it.”

Erec wished he could forget. It was bad enough to be forced to do things for other people, let alone every animal around. Was he servant to the universe?

He ran without thinking through his sisters’ room, into the closet where his mother slept, and picked up a picture of his mother holding Zoey.

Nell stayed asleep, but Zoey stood on her cot, blond curls falling messily over her purple nightgown and around her wide hazel eyes. She looked at the picture and danced around the room. “It’s me! It’s me!”

So this cloudy thought involved taking a picture of his mother to a hot dog stand where she was not going to be in order to find her. Erec shook his head and shoved the picture in his pocket.

The fortress-like babysitter perched by the front door. Her eyes widened when she saw Erec and then settled back into serene, feline watchfulness. She reminded him of a strange dream where one of his cats grew huge and tried to eat him. “I’m going out . . .”

The sitter raised a finger, watching the tiny television. A news story blared: “Thanatos Baskania, the self-dubbed ‘Crown Prince of Peace,’ continues his push for peace on earth. He says our world leaders need a larger power guiding them to bring us the peaceful existence we deserve. Baskania and his many multinational corporations are putting enormous amounts of money and people power into this ‘larger power,’ the new world peace organization, Eye of the World. Today, amid much controversy, Eye of the World has been accepted as the ruling body of the United Nations.”

The babysitter nodded with a thin-lipped smile. “Good man,” she croaked. Red-haired Trevor snoozed, oblivious, on the couch.

Erec’s toes were tapping, ready to run. “I’ll be back soon.” As he reached for the door, though, the clown-woman flicked an umbrella from under her chair and whacked the knob. Erec jerked his hand away just in time.

“Nobody leaves the apartment.” The sitter’s voice sounded like a rake scraping gravel. “Don’t you introduce yourself, young man?”

“I’m sorry.” He reached for the doorknob again, and as he did the umbrella rose in the air. His hand dropped.

“You’re Sorry. Okay, Sorry. Call me Mrs. Smith. What are the twins’ names?”

“Danny and Sammy.”

“Hmm. Danny and Sammy.”

Just then the coat rack sauntered into the room juggling three hats. Erec held his breath, waiting for the sitter to scream. He should have thrown the coat rack in the closet.

The sitter’s beady eyes, swimming in blue makeup, coolly stared at the coat rack without a trace of surprise. The coat rack seemed offended and threw a fourth hat into the air, as if to get more attention. Mrs. Smith lit a cigarette, a bored expression on her face.

“I have to go. We’re out of food.” Erec touched the knob just before the umbrella smacked it, this time grazing his fingers.

“No OUT!” rang like a jackhammer from her lips, and a bland smile took over her face.

“But there’s no food.” The cloudy thought gripped him and his knees knocked.

The babysitter shrugged. “I don’t think you’ll starve to death.” Her eyes narrowed to slits. She sucked her puffy cheeks in as if she was trying not to laugh.

Erec tried to grab the doorknob with an arm up to deflect the umbrella. This time, however, its unusually large handle caught him around the waist and yanked him in front of Mrs. Smith. She blew smoke into his face. “Do that one more time,” she rasped, “and I’ll have to tie you up.” Her tight frown turned into a small grin. “But don’t worry. We’re all going soon enough. So run along, Sorry.”

Erec flew into the kitchen, where the twins sat gawking. Mrs. Smith tapped cigarette ash onto the carpet.

She’s batty,” Sammy said. “Don’t worry. We’ll get you out
of here.”

Erec was ready to jump the six floors to the sidewalk. “Where’s Zoey?” Danny asked. “We could sic her on Mrs. Smith, and you can escape while she runs away in terror.”

“Look.” Sammy pointed. Mrs. Smith angrily swatted her face while Zoey, by her feet, chewed and stuffed paper into a pen shell. A spitball sailed into Mrs. Smith’s puffy nose. She tried to kick Zoey without getting up from her chair, but Zoey rolled away, laughing. Danny and Sammy giggled.

Zoey steadied herself and blew a spitball into Mrs. Smith’s open mouth. Mrs. Smith spat into her hand. She tried again to kick Zoey, but missed.

“It’s like she’s glued to that chair,” whispered Sammy. She picked Zoey up. “You’re going to get hurt, honey. Let the sitter rest. Did you go potty yet?”

“She’s such a mom,” said Danny.

“And you’re such a pest,” said Erec. The drive to leave was so overwhelming, Erec could hardly breathe.

“Shh.” Sammy winked at Erec. She took Zoey into the bathroom and called, “Mrs. Smith, Zoey needs help.”

The sitter filed her nails, cigarette drooping from her fingers.

“Mrs. Smith! We need you.” Sammy sounded desperate.

Mrs. Smith held out her hand to admire her filing job. “Bathroom help is not in my job description.”

“Please. She’s getting sick.”

“Is she really,” the sitter said in a gravelly voice. It sounded more like a statement than a question. She hummed quietly and filed her other hand.

Zoey left the bathroom, obviously needing no help, trailing a long stream of toilet paper. When Erec looked into the bathroom, his breath left him. It was as if he had been plunged into ice water.

His mother’s glasses sat on the bathroom counter. The thick black frames were held by a thin, silky chain. His mother never went anywhere without those glasses hanging around her neck, although she rarely used them. In fact, Erec had never seen them off her. She even slept with them, and he often wondered how she kept from crushing them.

Erec grabbed the glasses. His feet moonwalked toward the front door under the control of his cloudy thought, until he stamped them a few times. “Look what I found.”

“Wow,” said Sammy. “I’ve never seen those off her before.”

“She never even uses them,” Danny said. “Maybe she’s finally sick of them.”

It was true. The only times Erec saw his mother actually put the glasses on her face was when she was alone and thinking. She would stare into space. Afterward, her eyes would be red. When Erec asked why, she would say they made her eyes water.

He looped them around his own neck, sure she would want them when he found her. Danny tried to pull them off for fun, but the chain caught.

“I have to get out of here.” Erec looked around, breathing fast.

Danny winked and picked Zoey up. “I’ll be under my bed,” he whispered. “If this works, run for it.”

In a few minutes Zoey skipped back, a delighted grin on her face. “Danny’s climbing out the window. He’s probably already gone!”

Mrs. Smith shot from her chair like a coyote after a roadrunner into Danny’s room. Her thick, stubby legs and long feet flew over the beige carpet.

“What are you waiting for?” Sammy asked. “Go!”

Erec felt for his mother’s picture and made sure the glasses were around his neck. “Come with me?”

“Nah. I’d rather see what the sitter does when she finds Danny under the bed. Now go!”

Trevor snored on the couch, gripping his action figures of Franklin Stein, the Super A springball team guardian, and a Cyclops. Erec was sure they were duking it out in Trevor’s dreams. He darted down the stairs and ran three blocks before he dared look over his shoulder. There was no sign of the babysitter chasing him.

Little did he know that he had taken only the first few steps of a very long journey.

 

 

Chapter Two

Where the Sidewalk Opened

At the end of the block a crowd formed behind a barricade. Super A Team sports celebrity Mighty Joe Liath strolled out in shorts, a muscle shirt, and the Super A eye patch, flexing his huge biceps.

Erec wished Trevor could be there. Trevor owned all the Super A Team cards and figurines, knew the players’ statistics, and had seen all of their movies. He even liked the greasy food at the Super A King fastaurants. A man followed Joe Liath with a movie camera and another threw him a barbell, which Joe tossed high like a baton. He caught it behind his back and spun to flash a toothy grin at the camera.

Erec wanted to stay and watch, but his shoes tapped the sidewalk, ready to go. He pushed through the thickening crowd until the way was clear. He let his feet direct him down an alley.

A boy his age walked by with his parents, laughing. Erec wondered what it would be like to have a real father instead of the one who had deserted him when he was three. Maybe even happily married parents, who bought him ice cream and went for walks with him. His father was alive somewhere, but Erec had no interest in finding him.

A long line led to the hot dog stand outside of Grand Central Station. People were walking fast everywhere. His mother was nowhere in sight. He stopped in front of Herman Howl’s Finest UnderWear in the World and looked around.

This was great—being rushed by a cloudy thought to do nothing. Then his hand, on its own, shot into his pocket.

Of course, the picture. He had to ask if anyone had seen his mother. The short, chubby man at the hot dog stand had been there last night when they had bought hot dogs together. Maybe he’d remember her.

“Want another dog, kid?” The vendor ran sausage-like fingers through what was left of his oiled black hair.

Erec pulled out the picture. “Actually, I’m looking for . . .”

“Whadda ya want?” The man looked past Erec at the forming line. Erec held up the picture. The vendor’s mouth dropped and then returned to its original scowl. “Never seen her.” He fidgeted with his tongs.

“How did you know I was looking for her?”

He glanced at the next customer. “What else would you be asking? Next!”

“But we were just here yesterday—”

Next!

The man behind him stepped up to the cart and ordered a soft drink. Pushed to the side, Erec kicked a rock into a gutter. The hot dog vendor didn’t remember his mother. Asking any stranger about her would be pointless.

Still thinking, he crossed the street and almost walked into a man working at a newsstand. The man was thin, with wild-looking dark blue eyes and sparse brown hair. Something about him made Erec cringe. He was strangely familiar, like a person from one of his nightmares.

A girl Erec’s age with long, wavy, dark hair and butterscotch skin bounced over from the newsstand after helping a customer. “Let me guess,” she said. “I’m a great guesser. Candy, right? No, it’s more serious. Something for your mom, I think. Headache medicine?”

The newsstand man said roughly, “You buying something?” Erec shook his head and the man crossed his arms. “What? You’re wasting my time, kid.”

Erec reached into his pocket for the picture and held it up. “Have you seen her?”

The man grabbed it. “Where did you get this?”

The brown-haired girl peeked at the picture. Her eyes widened.

The man stepped closer. “This isn’t a lost-and-found service. You’re pretty young to be out here all alone.” He moved closer, too close. “Are you lost? What’s your name?”

The man’s cologne smelled familiar and awful. It gave Erec a chill, and his stomach rose into his throat. He grabbed the picture and quickly walked away.

“Wait!” The girl chased him. Her dark brown eyes sparkled as she waved a candy bar over her head. “You forgot this.”

Her dress was too small, Erec noticed, and all different colors. He had never seen clothing patched so many times. “I didn’t buy any candy,” he said.

She stuffed it in his hand and whispered, “I’ve seen her. The picture. Meet me in front of Water Lilies around the corner.” She hurried away.

Erec eyed the candy bar and looked up at the girl. He couldn’t believe she recognized his mother. As he rounded the corner he saw the man yelling at her.

Time seemed to stop as he waited in front of Water Lilies plant shop. Right when he was sure she wasn’t coming, the girl dashed around the corner, eyes flashing. “I’m Bethany Evirly. My Uncle Earl can’t see us talk. Believe me, you don’t want to know him. And I didn’t like the way he was looking at you.”

“That makes two of us.” Erec glanced up the street, almost expecting her Uncle Earl to charge around the corner.

“It’s okay. I’m supposed to be getting his favorite coffee.” Bethany pointed at a small, dark coffeehouse called Drips. She stared for a moment at Erec’s glass eye and quickly looked away. “Let me see the picture again.” Erec handed it to her. “Yup, definitely her. I’ve worked here most of my life. I don’t miss much. Especially the weird stuff.”

“What was weird? Where did you see my mom?”

Bethany paled. “It was your mom? I should have guessed.” She looked down. “Well . . . I saw her this morning. She went into the underground place. I always notice when people do that.”

“What, the subway?” Erec asked.

“No. It’s like a secret passage underground. I told you weird things go on here. Two big men were with her. It looked like . . .” Her voice trailed off.

“What?”

“Like she was being taken somewhere,” Bethany said. “Like she couldn’t get away from them. This morning Uncle Earl brought me here an hour early, at four. It was awful, dark and cold. I had to do everything myself, and Uncle Earl just sat around until these two huge men with eye patches showed up with her. She looked really angry. My uncle ran over to meet them. I think he was expecting them.”

Air slipped from Erec’s lungs. He felt like he was collapsing. His mother was not okay after all. “Are you sure it was her?”

“Positive. They were under a streetlamp.”

“Show me where that underground place is. I’m going to find her.”

Bethany crossed her arms. “It’s not that easy.”

“What are you talking about? Let’s go.”

“You can’t just walk in.”

“Why not?” Erec grabbed Bethany’s wrist and pulled her toward Grand Central Station. She yanked back.

“Listen. I’m trying to tell you. It’s not part of the normal subway system. It’s a . . . special subway or something. I’ve seen people using it for years. It’s hidden. My uncle watches it all the time. He must know all about it, but he won’t admit anything.”

Her face softened. “Anyway, I figured out how it works. I’ve spied on Gerard, the hot dog man. He makes it open. People tell him a password and he pulls a lever in his cart. The sidewalk opens at the bottom of some steps, and more steps go down. After people go in, the sidewalk slams shut over their heads. It’s strange, people walk by like they can’t even see it, but it’s clear as day to me.”

Erec put his hand over his face. So, this is why he was here. His mother was in danger. The cloudy thought told him she wasn’t hurt. He hoped it stayed that way.

“Do you believe me?” Bethany looked at him sideways.

Erec nodded. He wasn’t sure why he did, though. “How do I get in?”

“We tell Gerard the password and run down the steps. But my uncle can’t see us, or it’s all over.”

“Us? We? I don’t think so. I better go alone.”

Bethany shuffled her feet, but looked him in the eye. “I’m going with you. That’s the deal. Or no password.”

“But you could be stuck under the sidewalk.”

“So could you.”

“I have to find my mom. You don’t have to go. And the last thing I need is your uncle chasing us. I’m sure he’ll look for you.”

“He doesn’t know I can get in there.” She grabbed his arm. “I’ve thought about escaping forever. Earl doesn’t care about me. He’s just stuck with me because my parents died when I was little. He makes me work night and day, and he won’t even buy me another dress.” She looked down at her dirty, patched frock.

“But what if we get stuck? What if it’s a criminal hideout?”

“I’ll risk it. If I’m running away, I’m going somewhere totally different, and I think this is my best bet. I’ve always wanted to see what was down there. Plus, what better way to begin than by helping you find your mother?”

Erec did not like the idea of Bethany’s Uncle Earl chasing them, but going underground alone wasn’t so great either. “How can we get in without him seeing?”

They peeked around the corner. Earl was searching up and down the street. “He’s looking for me. Let’s go around the block. We’ll hide behind people and duck when we get to the hot dog stand. Pretend you’re tying your shoes.”

Luckily, Grand Central Station was growing more crowded. They walked behind three men in blue suits to Herman Howl’s underwear store and ducked beside the hot dog stand. Bethany pointed at empty concrete steps near a wall. They appeared to be a dead end.

Gerard, the vendor, peered over his cart at them, thick eyebrows raised. “You again? You buying this time? If you want to play games, kids, go find a park.”

Bethany looked up. “There is more to the earth, wind, and sea. Old magic remember me.”

Gerard’s eyebrows shot up and back like two fuzzy boomerangs. His face softened. “You gotta be kidding. You’re a couple a kids.”

Bethany looked as worried as Erec felt. She looked at Gerard and said, louder, “There is more to the earth, wind, and sea. Old magic remember me.”

Gerard raised his hands. “Aright, aright. You got your sixty bucks?”

“What?” Erec stuffed his hands in his empty pockets.

“Thirty each. You don’t think it’s free anymore, do ya?” He looked at them suspiciously.

 Erec frowned. “We don’t even have that much at home.”

Bethany smiled broadly. “I have ninety-eight dollars and sixty-three cents in my money belt.”

Erec was impressed. “How do you know the exact amount?”

She shrugged. “I’m good with numbers.”

Erec shook his head, not liking the idea. “We might have to pay to get back. Maybe another sixty. One of us could be stuck in there.”

“I won’t come back.” She grabbed Erec’s wrist. “I promise, if there’s only enough for one ticket back, I’ll give it to you.” She counted out sixty dollars.

Gerard pursed his lips and drummed his sausage fingers on the cart. “Are you two, perhaps, hiding from someone?” He looked over his shoulder at the newsstand.

“Is that any of your business? Here.” Bethany shoved the money at him.

“Hmm.” Gerard’s face smoothed out. “I guess it isn’t my business.” He took the money and then helped two customers who looked down at Erec and Bethany with amusement. When they left Gerard smiled. “Password again?”

Bethany took Erec’s hand. “Ready to run?” She nodded at Gerard. “There is more to the earth, wind, and sea. Old magic remember me!”

Gerard pushed away a red vinyl cloth in his cart and pulled a shiny metal lever. “Aren’t you kids taking anything with you?”

“No,” they both said.

Bethany and Erec darted behind passersby. The sidewalk opened at the bottom of the steps, before their eyes. More steps descended into the darkness. Erec and Bethany flew down moments before the concrete slammed shut.

Erec was sure he had heard Gerard shout something about great new underwear at Herman Howl’s if they needed it.
 

 

Chapter Three

In FES Station

The concrete slammed shut over their heads so fast Erec wondered what would have happened if they had gone slower. Bright lights flashed on in the low, sloping ceiling. Bethany and Erec ran down to a landing where more steps led down. These led to another landing, then another. Growing tired, they slowed down to a walk.

“You don’t suppose these go on forever, do you?” Bethany asked.

Erec glanced back the way they had come. “It’ll feel like forever when we’re climbing back up.”

Bethany, though, was looking the other way. “I’ve been wondering what’s down here for years.”

The air felt thicker as they went downward. It was heavy somehow, almost lifeless. The farther they went, the more unpleasant it became, until each breath felt contaminated. Erec craved the fresh air he’d left behind. He had an urge to run back up, but he remembered his mother needed him. Bethany’s lips were pinched together, her eyes squinting.

After countless flights of stairs, the passage ended at a knobless gray metal door. Both of them pushed, but it did not budge. A sign at the side read “Welcome to FES (Fee Every Stop) Station, our new and improved hub of transportation, with new and improved fees, monitored by Prince, Inc.” Below the sign was a red button.

Erec gestured. “After you.”

Bethany solemnly pushed the button. The door slid open long enough to let them in, then slammed behind them. They walked into an oval station that seemed as big as Grand Central was above. People of all shapes, colors, and sizes rushed to and fro: men in business suits, teachers with classes of children, couples, and families. Kids roamed in small packs. Some wore odd clothing, shiny silver jackets and pants, or long black or blue hooded cloaks and robes.

“It must be an underground part of Grand Central,” Erec said, thinking out loud. The air around him still felt strange, wrong. It was almost as if it weighed more, not in his chest exactly, but on his mind. “This place is stressing me out. I don’t know why, though.”

“I feel the same way. Everything seems creepy. It’s like all of a sudden, the whole world feels sad . . . or angry somehow.”

The ceiling was around sixty feet high. Shops and restaurants lined the walls. Some were familiar: Super A King fastaurants and Burger Rama. But most were new, with interesting names like Sky High Chilly, A Fine Kettle of Fish, Animals or Minerals Vegetarian Cuisine, and Molten Lava Sundaes. There seemed to be a lot of underwear shops.

“This is so much cleaner than the rest of Grand Central,” Bethany said. “And look at that shop, No Fear Flying Gear. How could that stay open in a train station?”

“Yeah, and all those underwear stores. I don’t get it.”

“Maybe it’s because people are traveling. They might forget to pack underwear.” Bethany shrugged.

Erec peered through a shop window. “I don’t even see underwear in those stores. Just weird, shiny clothes.”

“Maybe they hide it in the back so nobody will laugh at the people who forgot it.”

 Erec laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding.” The strangeness of the station almost made him forget the pressing sadness in the air. “Hey, check out that store, Cavern in a Canyon. And . . . what was that?” His finger froze.

“What?” Bethany nudged him nervously. “I don’t see anything.”

“A door disappeared.” He turned to her. “I thought I was seeing things, but then I saw another. Look.” All around the walls, people walked into thin doors that vanished when they shut. New doors appeared, and people casually strolled from them, sometimes buying coffee at Under Grounds and going back into the same door, which disappeared.

The doors all looked the same: plain brown wood with gold doorknobs and small gold plaques. Sometimes they appeared in front of a food stand, and then they would shrink to half size to fit in the short wall under the counter. People would crawl through, spilling their coffee and grumbling.

“Let’s check them out,” said Bethany.

“We’d better look for my mom.” Erec turned to see if the door he and Bethany came through had disappeared. It was still there, thankfully. Made of painted metal, it looked quite different than the wooden ones. A big green neon sign over it flashed “UPPER EARTH.” Erec pushed to make sure it opened back to the concrete steps. It would not budge.

A computerized voice sounded from the door. “Password?”

Erec repeated the password they had told Gerard, but the door remained closed.

Nearby, Bethany slid her hands over a wooden door, shaking the knob. “I can’t open it.”

A tall man with a pinched nose and hair greased over a large bald spot squinted at her through a monocle. “Excuse me? Are you trying to break into my house? Need I call the police?” He pointed to gold numbers on a plaque reading 2211.

“No. I’m so sorry.” Bethany’s face was red. “I’ve never seen one of these. I just wanted to see how it worked.”

The man’s eyebrows shot up. “Never seen a Port-O-Door?” He whipped out a camera and took their picture. “Just in case.” He patted the camera and murmured a code after they walked away. The door slammed behind him and vanished.

“Bethany, the door from the stairs is locked. We’re stuck here.”

Bethany looked shocked. She pounded on the door, saying the password and as many variations of it she could think of. Finally she gave up.

“Well, I don’t care. I don’t ever want to go back, anyway.” She bit her lip. Erec took a breath of the heavy air. This better be the right way to find his mother or he was really in trouble. They wandered farther into the huge station. After a few steps, Bethany stopped and pointed up. They had walked past a lower ceiling rim and could now see all the way to the top. It was moving, full of changing, swarming colors.

“What’s that?” Erec asked in awe.

Bethany looked pale. “People.”

Erec looked harder. She was right. There were people . . . yes, he was sure they were people, flying by the ceiling. Most were alone or in pairs; no children were up there. While they were doing something he had always dreamed of, they looked as busy and bored as commuters in rush hour. They glanced at their watches as they sailed by, occasionally bumping into each other and shaking fists. Tunnel holes near the ceiling led them in and out. A few landed on a tall slide that led them to the station floor.

Erec wondered if they were lifelike computer images put up for fun. They seemed amazingly real.

Bethany’s eyes were glued to the sight, too. “Do you think they’re held up by cords?”

A flying man landed on the slide, sailed down to the floor, and ran by Erec, bumping him with his briefcase.

“Bethany,” Erec said slowly, “I don’t think we’re in Grand Central Station anymore.”

“I’ve seen strange things my whole life, living with Uncle Earl,” Bethany said, “but never anything like this.”

They walked in a daze, bumping into people because they could not stop staring at the ceiling. Crowds thronged toward large neon signs. One glowed “ALYPIUM” in huge white letters.

“I wonder what Alypium means. Do you think it’s a place?” Bethany asked. A gigantic red neon sign further away read “AORTH,” and a third in blue read “ASHONA.”

“Ashona sounds like a sea animal zoo,” said Erec.

“Ooh, let’s go there!”

Erec shook his head, not moving. He could not imagine how he would find his mother here. His cloudy thought had vanished, like so many clouds and thoughts do. “Look at all the kids going to Alypium. It seems like a lot more is going on there.” Masses of kids headed toward the Alypium sign. He could hear some of them talking about contests, but not well enough to understand. Under the Alypium sign, fast-moving lines led under huge arched doorways marked “Skyway” and “Artery.”

The Artery line was long but not the Skyway line. A man with a blue business suit and a briefcase looked at his watch, strolled into the Skyway entry, and jumped. Instead of landing on his feet, he continued to sail upward, one hand holding his briefcase at his side and the other above his head, like a rudder, steering himself in the wind. He flew over an arched curve and out of sight.

“Wow,” Erec said, “did you see that?”

A tiny old woman tapped Erec’s shoulder. “Move it, honey. Go on or get out of the way.” Erec looked at her frail figure in surprise. He was about to offer his arm when she shoved him aside with her cane. In the Skyway entry, cane tucked her under her arm with her shiny black purse, she flew up into the wind tunnel.

“I wonder if we could do that.” Bethany tossed her long dark curls over her shoulder. They watched others sail off. Erec, overcome with curiosity, ran to the takeoff spot, raised his arms over his head, and jumped. His feet hit the ground. He jumped again and again, first with one arm up and then the other, until he noticed the people in the growing line watching him with snickers and shocked expressions.

Erec’s face grew hot. He grabbed a giggling Bethany and walked past someone saying, “. . . think he’s five years old or something . . .”

“The Artery then?” Bethany laughed.

“Fine.”

Erec gladly left the Skyway, and they found the end of the Artery line. It was set with metal rails like a line for a roller coaster. “I still don’t get this place. Do you think the Artery is a ride?”

“Mmm,” she shrugged. She was listening to some boys standing in front of them.

A short, slim boy with shaggy red hair was talking fast. “My dad said everyone will be there. Even some of the Super A Team’s kids. But they don’t have any better chance than we do. I wonder if they’ll bunk with us in the castle.” The boy wore one of the silvery-gray jackets. It moved like shimmering lava.

A tall boy with yellow blond hair, also around Erec’s age, answered. “They’ll be in the castle, all right, but in real rooms, not with the likes of us.”

The red-haired boy looked disappointed. “We’ll still see ’em though.”

The line started moving again and the boys rounded a corner. After a few turns, Erec heard the blond boy talk the red-haired one into riding the Lift instead of the Artery. “I know it takes longer, but it’s supposed to be beautiful, and I’ve never done it. Look, you’ve still got underwear on.”

“Oops!” The red-haired boy laughed and pulled off the jacket. The fabric melted around his fingers, yet somehow stayed together. He stuffed it into his back pocket, even though most of it slid
out again. As he turned the final corner of the queue, his jacket caught on a post and was yanked out of his pocket. The boy didn’t notice. Instead, he ran with his friend through a small archway marked “Lift.”

 

“Hey,” Erec shouted. “Your jacket!” The boy disappeared through the archway.

Erec grabbed it as he passed the metal post. It felt surprisingly cool, soft and sleek like liquid metal.

 “Might as well go this way.” Erec and Bethany went through the small archway, too.

 It looked like an amusement park ride, which seemed even odder with the sad feeling that radiated through the place. A man with a striped vest that said “MagicLine” asked “How many?” without really looking at them.

“Two.” The man pushed them toward a white line painted on the floor. In a moment, something that looked like a ski lift scooped them up. The seats were padded and comfortable. A wide pole connected to a cable that disappeared through a gap in the ceiling. The man strapped them in and pulled a padded bar under their arms. He stuffed paper bags into their hands and threw thick blankets with fuzzy hoods over them.

Their lift chair soared through a long, dark tunnel. Bright lights rhythmically whizzed by in the darkness, and wind pelted their faces.

“Wow,” said Erec after a while. “This is some tunnel.”

“I bet it’s all underground,” shouted Bethany.

In a flash, there was a blinding burst of light. A huge green face appeared before them. Erec gasped. Could it be? Yes. It was
the Statue of Liberty. They must have come out of her torch, but they were going too fast to be sure. Erec and Bethany looked back, open jawed, as the statue and the whole city of New York fell from sight.

Retail Price: $9.99, Paperback, 400 pages. Published by Firelight Press, Inc., July, 2007. ISBN-10: 0978655532

Retail Price: $17.99, Hardcover, 345 pages. Published by Firelight Press, Inc., October, 2006. ISBN-10: 0978655567

Copyright 2007 by Kaza Kingsley. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free to duplicate or distribute this file as long as the contents are not changed and this copyright notice is intact. Thank you

 

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