Read an Excerpt
Ashley Marie Webster here! Since my brother, Austin, has introduced the last two adventures, we agreed it would be my turn this time. Or we will agree as soon as he finds out. Meanwhile, I’ll tell you what it’s like to be sucked right into the Internet, just in case you’ve never been there.
I don’t mean looking at a Web site from the Outside. And I don’t mean clicking a mouse and watching everything on the screen from your chair. I’m talking about really being there.
I can’t explain exactly how it works. Austin sure didn’t mean for it to happen the first time he took my picture with a garage-sale digital camera plugged into his laptop computer. But there I went–the first of us to be sent online. And I have to say, that first time on the Web was pretty weird.
For starters I found out what it was like to be on the Titanic when it was sinking. (Hang on!) Austin visited the Apollo 13 spacecraft on its way home from the moon. (Scary.) And we both got close to the action when the British navy was shooting cannonballs at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. (Duck!)
I also found out that being on the Web is a lot like being here in the real world. When it’s supposed to be cold, we’re cold. We can feel the wind, smell the salt water–digital dust even makes me sneeze! While we are online, we seem just as digital as everything else.
So forget about being safe–not that I worry about that as much as my big brother. Fact is, I wasn’t too nervous when we first met Ms. Mattie Blankenskrean on the Internet. She’s actually from the same town as us–Normal, Illinois–though we didn’t know it then.
Turns out she wasn’t there to explore Web sites. She wanted to totally change them, at least when they didn’t fit with her way of seeing things. A substitute teacher at my school, Chiddix Junior High, was up to the same thing–leave it to Austin to find that out. Mr. Z (really Raven Zawistokowski, but no one tries to say that) and Ms. B both work with a group called the Normal Council on Civil Correctness, or NCCC. It’s their plan to take everything about Christian faith or Jesus off the Internet, making it seem as if the Bible is a big fairy tale you can skip reading if you want to. And when Austin and I got in their way…yikes! Things got nasty!
Not only did Mr. Z try to steal Austin’s laptop and digital camera, which is rotten enough, but for the past few weeks, the guy has been following us in and out of the Web. Austin thinks that if he ever does catch up to us, he’s going to make sure we don’t get back to Normal again.
As for me, I’m hoping Mr. Z isn’t that bad. But to tell you the truth, I’m not sure what he’ll do.
Everybody knew how much Austin Webster liked to think things over before coming to a decision. He knew it. His sister, Ashley, knew it. Their Aunt Jessi knew it. Hey, no need to rush things, right? Except this time…
Ka-BOOM! As soon as Austin saw the digital cloud of steam and ash pop the top of Mount Vesuvius, he grabbed his sister and dove under a table inside the little sidewalk café. Maybe theirs wasn’t the sturdiest building in the Roman city of Pompeii, but it would have to do.
“Everybody under the tables!” Austin yelled. A guy in a fancy knee-length robe looked down at him as if he were a rat collecting breadcrumbs.
No time to worry about that. Austin held his ears as the roar whooshed over the building and swept the street outside with a dragon’s breath of fire and ash. Even the heavy tables inside the café were bowled away by the blast, like dice from the hand of a giant. Austin tried to hold Ashley’s wrist as they tumbled into a wash of people, tables, chairs, and…
And a half-eaten onion the size of a baseball that came to rest on Austin’s face.
“Anyone lose your lunch?” he asked. But this wasn’t the time to joke. Everybody in the café had been thrown together into a pile, a groaning tangle of arms and legs and togas.
Togas, as in the Roman-style linen robes people wore.
“Ashley?” Austin called, and she pulled herself from the pileup at about the same time he did. He hoped he didn’t look as dusty and dirty as she did.
His sister whispered to him what he already knew: “We need to get out of here now.”
That would have been a fine idea. Only problem was somebody had suddenly turned out the lights. Outside the gaping hole of a window, a huge, inky shadow had turned day to night, just like that. Powdery gray ash rained down. When the floor shook once more, they both tumbled to their knees.
Austin grunted as he held up his camera. “Whoa, that one was really strong!” He tried to get to his feet, but the floor billowed and buckled below him like a wakeboard behind their grandpa’s ski boat on Lake Winnebago.
“Hang on!” But to what? He tried to hold the wall next to him, which sorta kinda worked–until a big crack snaked down from the roofline, splitting the plaster.
“Yikes!” Austin stepped out into the street, but it was like stepping into a snowstorm. Except he could breathe in a snowstorm.
“Where’s the”–cough, cough–“e-mail link?” Ashley asked from right behind him.
Pompeii’s streets were set up in neat blocks, as if a Roman engineer with a straight ruler had designed the place. It shouldn’t have been that hard to find the e-mail link, their escape route home.
But everything looked different now as closet-size shops stuffed full of sandals, embroidered Roman tunics, or spices leaned crazily over the narrow roads. To top it off, they had to wade through ankle-deep ash.
“This way.” Austin covered his mouth and nose with the inside of his shirt, but it didn’t help much. He fought for breath as Ashley stumbled along beside him. Good thing she held on to his arm; he could hardly see her in the ash blizzard.
“Where?” she gasped.
“The end of the block.” Was that right? Well, he thought so. Nothing looked the same as it had even three minutes ago. They passed no one in the streets. Maybe everybody was hiding inside, and he didn’t blame them. But if he and Ashley didn’t find the link pretty soon…
Austin didn’t want to think about it. He fell to his knees in the ash and dug like a dog for a bone. The link had to be here. Ashley tried to help, but she was coughing so hard he was afraid she was going to collapse.
Wait… No, his fingernails scraped against only cobblestones. Still, if this search worked, they would be able to feel what he’d hoped to see: the e-mail link that would send them back to the art-supply closet at Chiddix Junior High School in Normal, Illinois.
Ashley yelped before she disappeared, which was a very good thing.
“Thank you, God,” Austin whispered before he crawled over to the spot where his sister had been digging. This had better work for him, too.